Worcester holds the triple distinction of being the second largest city in New England, a leading Gateway City, and the leading refugee resettlement community, welcoming 300-500 new families each year. All these factors drive this unique, richly diverse city.
Worcester also faces challenges. Each year, more than one-third of kindergarten students enter Worcester Public Schools with no formal preschool experience. In 2017, that percentage grew to 37 percent, or 751 students. A staggering 22 percent of Worcester’s population is below the poverty level compared to a state average of 15.6 percent, and among youth under age 18, 30 percent live in poverty.
These statistics mean that the city has work to do.
“To be a truly great city, Worcester must have healthy children, engaged families, and the very highest standards in our early learning system,” noted Kim Davenport, managing director of Birth to 3rd Grade Alignment at Edward Street Child Services.
Worcester’s plan to expand preschool is to open eight new full-day preschool classrooms with four partners (Guild of St. Agnes, Rainbow Child Development, Worcester Child Development Head Start, and the YWCA) in a repurposed building.
This new building would serve as an Early Learning Demonstration Center drawing upon innovative pilots and programs. It would be a hub where leaders, businesses, educators and higher education could see innovative levels of collaboration and partnership across the mixed delivery system.
The plan targets hard-to-reach families and embeds support through Family Engagement Specialists and Family Advocates and mental health services — all of which would be free for families.
Worcester would incorporate shared administration and services, professional development, and on-sight comprehensive service access for children and their families. The community would incorporate culturally-supportive playgroups facilitated by Worcester Family Partnership to help families transition into the education system. Over two years, the plan would serve more than 200 additional children (180 in preschool and 48 in playgroups).
Program educators would receive training and classroom-based coaching. They would be able to pursue their own professional education through a cohort model and earn an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree or a leadership certificate. This effort would be supported by local resources and our partners, including our regional Educator and Provider Support grant, Quinsigamond Community College, Becker College, and Worcester State University.
“We looked at the need across multiple dimensions,” Davenport says, “and understood that Worcester needs both new high quality preschool classrooms and an expanded pipeline of high quality educators and leaders.”