Educational Program Expands into More School Districts
United Way of the Valley & Greater Utica (UWVGU) Area’s ‘Ready For Kindergarten’ (R4K) program has been awarded $161,577 from three local grants, which helps the program further its objective of better preparing local children for success in education.
UWVGU has invested in early education for many years as part of its education focus area. In recent years, community coalitions, service providers, and school districts have shared that behavioral issues of children in early elementary grades have increased. To study the root causes in order to innovate solutions, UWVGU conducted countywide research.
While there are several independent programs in Oneida County that address either children’s health & well-being or education, there was previously no collective impact model that addressed both. In response to this disconnect, UWVGU launched its R4K Initiative in the fall of 2016.
Since then, R4K developed the first-ever, standardized Kindergarten Skills Inventory (KSI) that 22 Herkimer and OHM BOCES school districts now use. In 2017, data showed that 24% of children entering Kindergarten were not ready. The main objective of R4K is to decrease that percentage. The program will achieve this primary, measurable outcome by better supporting and intervening in the first 5 years of critical childhood development.
R4K currently serves children ages 0-5 and parents/caregivers in 7 school districts (8 elementary schools). Initially launched in Dolgeville, Central Valley Academy and Remsen, R4K has since expanded into the Town of Webb, Holland Patent, Vernon-Verona-Sherrill (VVS), and Rome City school districts. Additional school district Superintendents have voiced support for, and interest in, the R4K program.
Each school is a base of operations for a “Family School Navigator” who uses multiple resources to identify families with children ages 0-5 in the community. This full-time individual establishes and maintains regular contact with children and families in school and/or at home whenever possible. The purpose is to identify and address early indicators of educational, behavioral, and/or medical health concerns impacting children and/or their caregivers to encourage maximum development.
“Children are our most vulnerable population, and they represent the future of our communities. We want to ensure children in Oneida & Herkimer Counties are set up for success when they begin school,” stated Erin Gutierrez Matt, United Way of the Valley & Greater Utica Area CEO. “We know that the most critical time for brain development is in the first 5 years of life. This is why United Way of the Valley & Greater Utica developed R4K: to provide support to children as early as possible by addressing their social-emotional and physical needs outside of the classroom so they can advance development. These factors all impact a child’s ability to learn.”
The M&T Bank/Partners Trust Bank Charitable Fund, held at The Community Foundation, awarded UWVGU $50,000. The Alexandra G. Kogut Memorial Fund, also held at The Community Foundation, awarded $500 to UWVGU. The CNY Care Collaborative Innovation Fund awarded UWVGU $111,077, which enabled a new partnership with CNY Health Homes in the expansion of the program into the Holland Patent, VVS, and Rome school districts.
David Manzelmann, M&T Bank Utica market president and advisory committee member for the M&T Bank/Partners Trust Bank Charitable Fund, remarked: "M&T Bank is proud to support the positive work that United Way is doing with the R4K Program. It’s programs like this that help shape our youth’s future by preparing them for success early on. We are passionate about advancing the program’s mission and look forward to seeing it expanded into more school districts in the area.”
These grants allow UWVGU to expand its resources for data collection in Herkimer and Oneida county school districts, advocate for statewide early education policies and procedures (such as making kindergarten mandatory in New York state), and bring the R4K program into more districts.
Erin Gutierrez Matt added, “It might sound obvious to suggest a child’s barriers are established long before they step into a classroom, but this program is the first and only of its kind in our state. United Way is committed to innovation that improves long-term outcomes.”