Few things are more tragic than untapped potential in children. Preschool is one foundational component to help children reach their potential in every stage of life. The preschool experience is a major influence throughout a child’s life. Numerous national and regional studies confirm children who attend preschool as a 3 or 4-year-old have better grades in school, read with higher aptitude, are more likely to graduate, obtain and keep better jobs, and make wiser life choices.
The benefits of preschool are not merely academic, but social as well. Children learn what it means to be a part of a community: sharing, working together with others, being respectful, following rules, being kind and encouraging to peers.
Unfortunately, the preschool experience is not accessible for all children. A growing number of families simply cannot afford it. Federally-subsidized programs like Head Start have helped but don’t have the capacity to meet the growing need. And so, a gap exists and threatens to widen. When a child already in poverty cannot attend preschool, like other kids, they don’t arrive at kindergarten ready to learn. They risk falling further behind as they work to catch up. That amounts to a major, long-term challenge for those children – and for our entire community.
The Sioux Falls Hope Coalition
This is where The Sioux Falls Hope Coalition comes in. The Hope Coalition grew out of a yearlong series of meetings in 2015-2016 among business, civic, non-profit and faith leaders in the community. The subject: As growing income gaps created more families in poverty, what could the community do to break that cycle? While the answer to that question is complex, these leaders found consensus around a desire to address the needs of the city’s most vulnerable population, children. Therefore, the solution: help children in poverty start kindergarten on a level playing field by making preschool a reality for all.
From the beginning, The Hope Coalition has been committed to using existing resources in the community to address the needs of children in poverty. Three years ago, The Hope Coalition brought together three high quality preschools – Abiding Savior Academy, Peace Lutheran, and Sioux Falls First Learning Center – along with several generous community and business partners, to enroll forty children in preschool programs at no cost to the child’s family. The Hope Coalition serves families who are at or below 185% of the federal poverty level and provides a scholarship paid directly to the preschool for students to attend one of the partner schools. Each preschool is committed to partner with the Coalition by not charging families for any additional costs associated with the preschool experience.
The Need Continues
However, the need was, and still is, well beyond forty students. The Hope Coalition has grown each year through enrollment and preschool partners. Now in our fourth academic year, our goal is to enroll two hundred children into one of our ten quality preschool partner programs. In addition to the three inaugural schools, we have added Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools, Boys & Girls Club, Central Downtown, Compassion Preschool, EmBe, Graham Academy at the Washington Pavilion, and Sioux Falls Christian Schools.
The Impact is Far-Reaching
The impact of The Hope Coalition extends beyond the classroom. We have seen the blessing not only in the lives of our Hope Coalition students, who are now prepared to enter kindergarten on a level playing field, but well beyond and woven through the families of our students, the rest of the students in the class, and the teachers and staff within the schools.
Recently one of our preschool teachers forwarded a text from a Russian family whose child came to class a few short weeks ago speaking only Russian. (Within the school setting English is the primary language.) This teacher recently sent a message to all families about the importance of reading to their children at home, and received the following text in response:
“Miss Jen, thank you for your care. I was amazed to notice a couple days ago when my son had initiated talking with me in English. And I know how valuable the reading is. We now hoard many colorful picturesque books. I can’t push him hard; he is doing everything in his own way, pace and manner. Your teaching is very essential source of knowledge for him. We appreciate it deeply. Thank you.”
A school administrator recently shared with me the story of a student who didn’t know how to use a crayon upon entering preschool. The untapped creativity that blossomed over the coming days and weeks affirmed the importance of an education opportunity prior to kindergarten. Preparing this one student for kindergarten will have profound benefits for him, but also for his teacher and his classmates next year. Helping one student achieve his or her potential helps every single student in his or her class do the same.
The Sioux Falls Promise!
The work is not done though. Hundreds of more local families would qualify and benefit from The Hope Coalition. The Hope Coalition is funded by voluntary donations, grants and the Sioux Empire United Way. We are committed to doing all that is possible to give every child the chance to experience preschool. This is what we call The Sioux Falls Promise! We promise to give them all an opportunity. Your philanthropic support helps to advance the Sioux Falls Promise to ensure every child in Sioux Falls gets a preschool education and an opportunity to succeed in school – and in life.
To learn more, check out sfhopecoalition.org.