It is the ultimate collaboration: multiple units of local government investing our funds in our youngest and most vulnerable children.
This is the vision of the Collaboration for Early Childhood, a vital Oak Park non-profit which has worked for many years to improve the quality and the availability of child care for kids who are at risk in our community.Now the Collaboration is widening its focus beyond helping improve storefront preschools and church basement daycare, beyond easing transitions into all-day K at the public schools.The Collaboration has made plain its goal of direct connection to local families where children in the critical five first years need a nurturing boost cognitively, physically and socially. We know who these kids are, we know what they need and, most importantly, we know the consequences of failing to offer these families early, essential support. The consequence is a child who arrives in a District 97 kindergarten already dramatically behind his or her peers and who, evidence is clear, will seldom ever catch up. The consequence is children who don’t graduate from high school, who clash with police, who don’t find satisfying, productive work. The consequence is played out broadly across society in pain and cost and a cycle that repeats.Two weeks ago, the Collaboration brought James Heckman, a Nobel prize-winning economist, to Oak Park to speak to nearly 300 opinion leaders in this village about the opportunity and the consequences of investing in young kids on the bubble. He was eloquent and he was persuasive as he talked to business people, educators, social service leaders, elected officials.Spend now to enrich and launch young children or spend later to contain chaos and failure.Collaboration leaders, and they are a worthy group, have been oddly circumspect as they have moved their “blueprint” toward the public square. They believe they are near, but not yet at, the point of announcing an agreement between the District 97 elementary schools, Oak Park and River Forest High School and the Village of Oak Park to provide substantial and sustaining funding for their family-by-family outreach.
We understand the matter is complex, that collaborations among government bodies are challenging. But we strongly urge the key players to make the final pact that will launch an initiative truly worthy of Oak Park’s history of social innovation.
We believe this is an investment that will pay off in academic achievement through grade and high school, will improve the behavior of kids and lessen negative encounters with police, will strengthen families in our village.
We have faith in the leadership of the Collaboration and in the vision they have articulated. Now is the time to invest in that vision.