Recent research has touted early childhood education as a panacea to poverty issues in the United States. Illinois’ Early Childhood Innovation Zones, led by Illinois Action for Children in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, has helped to launch eleven ‘Innovation Zones’ that are piloting innovative new strategies to improve early childhood education and increase access to early childhood education for the highest needs families across communities in Illinois.

The Innovation Zones are in eleven different communities in Illinois—Altgeld-Riverdale, Aurora, Austin Cicero, Elgin, Englewood, Greater East St. Louis, North Lawndale, Pilsen & Little Village, Thornton Township, and Williamson County. Each Innovation Zone, comprised of local non-profits, government agencies, early childhood programs, and more, has developed strategies to address the issues relevant to their community. Since the Innovation Zones launch, more families are accessing early childhood programs, quality of early childhood education is improving, and local practice is being changed.

In a recent webinar – “Building a Pipeline: Enrolling Children in Early Childhood Programs” (click here to view recording) – three Innovation Zones discussed their strategies and successes in developing a “pipeline” with cross-system partners to identify and increase enrollment of children from priority populations in high quality early learning and development programs. One of the communities highlighted in the webinar was the North Lawndale Innovation Zone.

North Lawndale Innovation Zone Up Close

Background information, including demographics and an extensive list of partnerships, about the North Lawndale Innovation Zone can be found here or by viewing the consortium webinar series recording titled “Building a Pipeline: Enrolling Children in Early Childhood Programs”.

The North Lawndale Innovation Zone established a pipeline of partners extending from non-early childhood education to the early learning programs. This Innovation Zone has made impactful relationships with the health sector, CPS early childhood team, mental health providers, and other community based organizations. Striving to strengthen their pipeline partnership, North Lawndale Innovation Zone recently made connections with UCAN, CPS home visiting, and Lawndale Christian Health Center.

These cross-system partnerships created an active referral network and connected families to formal programs. As a result:

  • Two healthcare organizations, St. Anthony and Lawndale Christian Health Center, are developing a systematic referral process to connect patients to early learning programs.
  • The team presented to CPS home-visiting west-side agencies to streamline a referral process to connect families that aged out of home-visiting to preschool programs and offered their assistance.
  • Strategic outreach efforts with NLIZ partners has increased enrollment in community and public -based programs including educational home visiting programs.
  • North Lawndale Innovation Zone has connected over 200 children to early learning programs.

North Lawndale Innovation Zone also has reciprocated the partnership and continues to be present in the community. The Innovation Zone has:

  • Helped I AM ABLE host the TR4IM Trauma Conference in July 2015 by sitting-in the planning committee and served as volunteers during the conference.
  • Provided Heartland Alliance with testimonials from homeless mothers connected to Community Connections programming. The testimonials and recommendations were captured and sent to DFSS for development of a clinical outreach team, ultimately connecting with Department Family and Support Services to address homeless families’ issues with being kicked out of shelters.

The cross-system partnerships have proved to be an invaluable strategy to increase enrollment of high needs children into early childhood education services. After much success, the North Lawndale Innovation will continue to improve early childhood education, and build cross-systems partnerships that are shaping Illinois for the future.

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