Democracy is best realized through conversations, not advertisements nor soundbites. This was the reason that 26 of us from the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative went to Lansing this past Tuesday. Our agenda was to meet with as many legislators and political leaders as possible to share with them the amazing story of this collaborative, which next month celebrates its fifth birthday. In total, 14 legislators and 2 chiefs of staff sat at the table with us.
Eric Foster, who has been training members of the collaborative on advocacy tools and strategies, congratulated us on our first ever Legislative Day and framed it well by asking “how are the children?” He shared how the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative is the only organization that has visited Lansing that is dedicated to early childhood education. In addition to telling the ELNC story, our agenda was to gain support for a pilot program for three year-olds that the ELNC CEO, Dr. Nkechy Ezeh, has been advocating for in Lansing.
We also went to Lansing regarding a transportation issue. State funding for early childhood education has allocated $155 per child for transportation, yet the policies on how these funds can be used limits them to a traditional yellow bus as the sole means of transportation. Since the partner sites for the ELNC are largely place-based this is not practical. Most of the legislators who met with us that morning are on the Education Subcommittee, and we encouraged them to revisit the legislation in order to allow greater flexibility on the allowable modes of transportation that reflect the preferences of the families in our neighborhoods. The message was well received, and as one representative stated, “we are on board with this.”
In the first four years of the ELNC’s history, 1,056 children have graduated from preschool. There are now 17 ELNC preschool classrooms at five partner sites, and 2 infant/toddler classrooms at one site. These are children who could have easily fallen through the cracks if the seven organizations of the ELNC had not come together in May of 2010 and crafted a vision on how local communities can address a need in their own neighborhoods. Steepletown is very appreciative of being a partner of the ELNC, which has provided the support for two full-day 4 year-old classrooms and two half-day 3 year-old classrooms at the Basilica Center. On May 26th Steepletown will be holding a special graduation ceremony for the 64 children from the surrounding neighborhood who have completed a year of preschool.