In SPARK and Ready Schools, Ohio Seeks a Powerful Demonstration Project to Serve High Need Rural Communities
In America, when a service program or intervention has proven successful and becomes widely acknowledged as such, a unique approach to social change is launched.
- Sharon L. Kagan, Ed.D. Columbia Teachers College on SPARK Ohio
Developed in 2003 by the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton with a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids (SPARK Ohio) is a family-centered kindergarten readiness program that works with families, schools and the community. From its initial sites in Stark County, SPARK Ohio has now expanded to Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Mahoning, Summit and Trumbull Counties. SPARK Ohio's well documented results and continued support from the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton has made the program a model for replication.
Now funds from Ohio's successful Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant (RTT-ELC) will expand the program even further in three high need rural communities as the state seeks a powerful demonstration project to "bridge the early learning and school divide and sustain the health, well-being and educational outcomes as children move from home or preschool, into kindergarten and the early elementary grades."
A report issued by Philanthropy Ohio last month says that, the RTT-ELC grant could not have come at a better time. This is because Ohio's FY 2010-11 state budget had severely limited existing early childhood programs. Gone is the Early Learning Initiative, $11 million was cut from the public preschool program, funding was reduced by 20 percent for Help Me Grow, and the reimbursement rate was trimmed for child care providers who serve low-income families.
Also to be implemented with SPARK is the state's Ready Schools component, developed collaboratively in 2006 by the Ohio Department of Education's Office of Early Learning and Readiness, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton, and the Ohio Association of Elementary School Administrators. While SPARK focuses on getting children ready for kindergarten, Ready Schools helps insure a smooth transition from preschool and sustained momentum in the early years of schooling. Ready Schools is currently in 40 schools statewide.
How communities sustain both programs through local, state or federal resources beyond the life of the RTT-ELC grant will be a major component in the demonstration projects.