UEI initiative forges a path to college education for impoverished children

The program will target underprivileged youth in early childhood programs.

By Hamid Bendaas

A new education initiative intends to target underprivileged youth in early childhood programs and forge a path to a college education.

This past December, UChicago’s Urban Education Institute (UEI) and Ounce of Prevention, a Chicago non-profit aimed at providing early education opportunities for children in poverty, announced the launch of a pre-kindergarten program, which will double as an observational study to track student success as part of their “birth to college” joint initiative.

The program will combine UEI’s charter school network, which includes pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, with the Educare School, an Ounce-managed campus that is accepting applications from children as young as six weeks through age five for the study.

One of the partnership’s main aims is to form Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), which will encourage teachers and workers from pre-kindergarten education and grade school to engage with one another to develop methods of support and teaching and a streamlined trajectory for their students during meetings.

“The PLCs are an essential device to span the divide between early childhood and K-12. Historically, these have been different worlds,” John Dewey Director at the Urban Education Institute Timothy Knowles said. “The PLCs join them, creating opportunities to discover new ways to teach, learn and engage families in the interests of children.”

The program is founded on studies that indicate students can begin to show signs of future academic struggle as early as nine months old. These studies imply that attempts to close education disparities must begin even before kindergarten and continue until high school.

The “birth to college” idea has been the backbone for several education-related moves Mayor Rahm Emanuel has made within the past year. Last summer, Emanuel’s budget team announced it would allot $10 million to develop and expand early childhood programs. In the fall, he unveiled UChicago Promise, which allows Chicago Public School students to attend the University loan-free upon admittance.

However, the intended audience for the “birth to college” partnership extends beyond Chicago residents.

“All along the way UEI and the Ounce are doing this work in a public way so practitioners and policy makers in other places can learn and act on what we learn,” Knowles said. “In that sense, the aim is not just to level the playing field for children on Chicago’s South Side, but to level it for children growing up in cities across the United States.”