Family philanthropists have a natural interest in helping other families—particularly the most vulnerable. In the preconference session at the 2011 Family Philanthropy Conference designed and led by Susan Price of the National Center for Family Philanthropy, 70 family foundation peers gathered to share strategies on the education, care, and literacy of children in their early years.
The session featured Miriam Shark, associate director of the independent Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, along with a panel of three family foundation members working on early childhood education: Carmen Siberan, program officer of The William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, Mary Wallachy, executive director of the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation, and Stephanie Blank, trustee of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
Each foundation shares a similar goal: to meet the needs of their community’s youngest children in order to get them reading—and learning—by the end of third grade.
Shark provided an overview of the most recent data on kids’ low reading scores—and what the Casey Foundation, among others, is doing about them. According to data from Casey’s recent KIDS COUNT report, only one-third of all American children can read at grade level by the beginning of fourth grade. If current trends continue, said the report, 6.6 million low-income children in the birth-to-8 age group are at risk of dropping out of high school.
Casey has been one leader in forming a national network of funders interested in supporting kids age zero to 8, with a goal of having them read by the end of third grade. So far, about five-dozen funders representing more than 25 states are involved.
Other foundations are convening groups around early childhood education and care, including:
It is impossible for any one funder to do it all in early childhood education. But, there’s a place for everybody in this work—those interested in supporting schools, daycare, policy, health care, research and more. The best way to go about getting involved, said panelists, is to find ways in your community to collaborate with others already doing a piece of the work.
To read more about family foundations working on this issue, along with a list of valuable resources and advice for getting involved, be sure to read “Ready to Learn: Family Philanthropy Supports Early Learning and Literacy,” published by the National Center for Family Philanthropy as part of its Passages series.
Elaine Gast Fawcett is a writer and communications consultant for Four Winds Writing, which supports family foundations