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Rural connections cradle our littlest learners

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Invest Early is in its ninth year of providing wrap-around early childhood services for Itasca County children and their families.

They recently released their Year 7 results in a report compiled by Wilder Research. Highlights include:

  • Home learning environments, which are associated with higher school readiness scores, improved significantly for Invest Early families during their participation.
  • Kindergarten entry results show that Invest Early children perform better than their low-income comparison peers, and they continued to narrow the gap with the higher-income group this year.
  • More Invest Early students were ready for kindergarten this year than in all previous years.
  • Efforts within the Invest Early school districts to improve conditions for school readiness systemically may be gaining momentum and benefiting all low-income students.

As the program evolves, it is taking a data-driven approach to early childhood – looking at each child’s progress and utilizing that knowledge to make curriculum changes.

“A data-driven approach isn’t very common,” says Jan Reindl, Director of Invest Early. “We work in a world of play, and that’s where we should be. That’s where kids learn. But what we’ve done is take a look at kids’ outcomes and assessed them to a point. Then we come together to make decisions, ask questions. Asking those questions consistently puts you in a better position to serve kids.”

This model works because of time-tested evaluation tools, like the Wilder Research report. The real strength of the program, however,  is found in the threads that weave together providers, families and residents to make a the community’s fabric.

“We know who each other are,” says Reindl. “People often see rural communities as being disadvantaged, but for us, it’s the strengths that come from our connectedness that makes the Invest Early program thrive.”

This message was shared by Blandin Foundation Program Officer Mary Kosak when she testified before the Minnesota Senate E – 12 Committee earlier this month. As the Committee looks to enhance the Early Learning Scholarships Program, Kosak said the biggest improvement they could make would be to provide incentives for early learning provider collaboration.

“Invest Early has found that working together has many benefits — more effective and efficient use of existing resources, shared training, savings in purchasing, less duplication of services, and the ability to concentrate on delivering higher quality programming to children and families,” says Kosak.

“Partnerships are the key to servicing our children and their families,” says Reindl. “There’s not enough money. Period. So why would we duplicate services? Our strength comes from knowing one another. I’m not saying it can’t happen in a big city, but I certainly know it can work in a small community. Another rural advantage.”


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