New project will expand access to early education for Flint kids

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The transformation of a shuttered elementary school into a hub of early childhood education services is underway in Flint, thanks to $1 million in funding from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and $500,000 from the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, a program of the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation.

The grants to the Foundation for the Uptown Reinvestment Corporation (FURC) are covering the costs of renovations at the former Cummings Elementary School, located on the city’s southwest side. The project includes extensive physical improvements to the school and surrounding campus, as well as the addition of new technology and furnishings. The Uptown Reinvestment Corporation, a supported organization of FURC, is overseeing the renovations.

The school is expected to reopen by mid-September as the site of the Great Expectations Early Childhood Program. The program will serve up to 220 area children ages 2 months to 5 years and will be available free of charge to Flint families affected by the city’s water crisis.

The improvements at the school will create a welcoming space in which educators, families and area partners can work together to help children get a strong start on their educational journey, Ridgway H. White, president, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation said.

“It’s essential that all Flint kids have access to the best educational opportunities, beginning as early as possible,” he said. “The good news is that there are a lot of people, organizations and government agencies working together to make that a reality.”

The joint philanthropic support for the renovations at Cummings, which closed in June 2015 as part of a restructuring by the Flint Community Schools (FCS) District, is just one example of that collaborative effort, said White. The Great Expectations program is a partnership of FCS, the University of Michigan-Flint and the Genesee Intermediate School District. State and federal funding will help support the program, and a $600,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) will increase access to high-quality early learning opportunities by helping early childcare providers at the Cummings site and throughout the community identify and address the educational, behavioral and health needs of children exposed to lead as a result of the city’s water crisis.

Studies have found that lead exposure can spark developmental delays and behavioral challenges among children. High quality early childhood programs are key to mitigating those impacts, but the need for such services in Flint currently outpaces the available slots by four to one.

The launch of the new program at Cummings is an important step towards balancing that equation, noted J.B. Pritzker, board chair of the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation.

“High quality early childhood education, health care and nutrition are essential to ensuring that each child achieves their full potential,” he said. “The Cummings renovations will allow Flint’s children increased access to high quality programs during the critical first five years.”

For FCS Superintendent Bilal Tawaab, the expansion of early childhood programs holds the potential for strengthening the overall educational system in Flint.

“We know that early, high quality experiences can help create a solid footing for a child’s educational career,” he said. “Making those opportunities available to all our kids is fundamental to ensuring their future growth and success, and that of the greater Flint community.”

FCS is planning an open house to provide residents with an opportunity to visit the renovated Cummings site and learn more about the Great Expectations program. The open house will be held in mid-September, just before the program launches. Details will be posted on the district’s website.

In May, Mott, WKKF and eight other foundations announced a joint commitment of up to $125 million to help Flint recover and rise from the water crisis. That pledge includes up to $100 million over the next five years — as much as $50 million the first year alone — from Mott. The J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation is the latest philanthropy to engage in the collaborative funding effort.