Long before a child steps into a Kindergarten classroom, they are getting ready for school. How ready they are on day one, and how local policies can influence that preparedness, is the focus of an initiative in Greater Hartford that has proven to be successful in communities around the world. In partnership with the public school districts and municipal leadership of Hartford and West Hartford, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is piloting the use of the Early Development Instrument (EDI) to gauge the learning readiness of incoming Kindergarteners from different neighborhoods.
Recognizing that families and caregivers are the first teachers— and homes and neighborhoods are the first learning environments – the EDI process strives to discern what works best. The EDI is an assessment that provides population-level data by neighborhood on school readiness, and has been used in over 40 communities in the United States and extensively internationally.
“Positive relationships and supportive environments guide a young child’s development and provide the foundation for future learning and well-being,” said Richard Sussman, director of Early Childhood Investments at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. “While the EDI provides important data, the most impactful aspect of this project is the collective action strategy which encourages parents, residents, and communities to use data to make positive changes to support young children and families in their neighborhoods.”
Last year, after students had been in class for at least three months, Kindergarten teachers in Hartford, West Hartford, and Jumoke Academy filled out a comprehensive questionnaire regarding the social competence; emotional maturity; language and cognitive skills; physical health and well-being; and communication skills of each of their students. Approximately 2500 kindergarten students were included, representing about 85 percent of the kindergarten-age population of Hartford and West Hartford.
EDI looks at the whole population of children in a neighborhood; it is not a diagnostic tool for individual children or a means to evaluate individual teachers or programs. The process enables local leaders to develop customized solutions designed specifically for their communities. It identifies obstacles facing children in individual neighborhoods and builds improvement strategies around resources that already exist, officials point out.
The Hartford Foundation worked in partnership with Trinity College’s Cities and Suburbs and Schools Project, the Connecticut Data Collaborative, and the University of Connecticut’s Mapping and Geographic Information Center (MAGIC) to analyze and visualize the data to help communities examine outcomes in the context of neighborhoods, socioeconomic and community resources. This information can be accessed by logging on to edi.ctdata.org.
It is hoped that this work will be shared broadly with key stakeholders in the community including local municipal officials to create dialogue that focuses on using limited resources more effectively to support young children and families.
The Foundation has trained community residents and community-based organizations in Hartford to interpret the EDI data and lead discussions in Hartford neighborhood. Several parent-led “community cafés” focused on analyzing neighborhood data have already taken place with a half dozen additional cafés and follow-up meetings scheduled, to take closer looks at specific data and steps to improve outcomes for young children.
The Hartford Foundation has developed a brochure in English and Spanish for local residents that explains the background, purpose and methodology of the Early Development Instrument. This brochure can be downloaded at hfpg.org. At present, over 40 communities nationwide work with UCLA on the EDI project and the university center works with its international colleagues in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom where the instrument is used widely.
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is the community foundation for Hartford and 28 surrounding communities. In 2015, the Foundation marks ninety years of grant making in the Greater Hartford region, made possible by the gifts of generous individuals, families and organizations. It has awarded grants of more than $620 million since its founding in 1925.