June 29, 2017
by Oscar Rennebohm Foundation
The Dane County Board of Supervisors has approved the purchase of a building on the North Side to serve as an Early Childhood School Zone. The Zone, which will be at 2830 Dryden Drive, just off Northport, will provide a number of services to the Mendota, Lindberg, Lakeview and Gompers Elementary school areas.
The Early Childhood zone will be the second zone of its type in the Madison area. The Leopold Elementary school area has one such zone that has been successful enough that Dane County Executive Joe Parisi was able to secure funding for a new one.
“The genesis for the Child Zone concept came about four or five years ago,” County Executive Joe Parisi told Madison365. “We were looking at how we can help kids in poverty or are disadvantaged, which often corresponds with minority communities.”
Parisi said that the School Zones will help kids reach the developmental milestone of reaching 4K without placing undue burdens on families who may be struggling with finances, employment or health issues.
“We want families to be able to start on a level playing field,” Parisi said. “We can’t just focus on the kids, we have to focus on the families. If they need help finding a job or need help with childcare or have health issues, we want to be able to help with those needs.”
The school zone will have employees who go visit families in their homes to help both determine what that specific family needs and to provide resources that connect that family to those services.
Parisi has joined forces with United Way and secured funding from the Oscar Rennebohm Foundation to build the school zone. Parisi hopes that if it is as successful as the Leopold Community pilot program was, different foundations like the Rennebohm Foundation will continue to donate and they can build early childhood school zones across Dane County.
One of the goals of the Early Childhood zones will be bringing resources and help to traditionally black and brown communities like around the Northport Area. Executive Parisi said that the north side represents one of Madison’s neediest areas.
“The north side was one of the most-needy communities for this,” Parisi said. “We not only partnered with United Way but we also pooled together our resources so we could do more. The Rennebohm Foundation became aware of the Early Childhood Zone by Leopold and they offered to build another Zone from scratch. So now we have Dane County, the United Way and the Madison School District on board.”
Parisi said the Zone will be a collaboration between all of those various partners rather than each entity simply doing projects on their own. The Zone will provide day care assistance as well as home visitation from employees who are contracted from the United Way to meet families where they live and provide help to those families.
Parisi sees it as an opportunity to affect the future fortunes of the entire area around the North Side. With families, particularly single parent homes, able to get their children prepared for school without having to worry about the finances and time it will cost each parent, that will enable parents to focus on working and improving their economic situation. The ripple effect will be that more families are receiving living wages and spending less on educational benefits upper middle-class families may simply take for granted.
“If we can get those kids enrolled in 4k and not have them behind the 8 ball, then these kids are going to have a much better chance to have success,” Parisi said. “We want to make sure these kids have an equal shot for success by strengthening the family and the community. Overall, this model holds great promise. When you can pull together all these resources and all of these people with the goal of empowering the community it is something that brings a lot of hope to the community.”
The Early Childhood School Zone is in the process of being up and running right now. Organizers have not set a date for any type of grand opening.
Originally appeared in Madison365.