Goal: Every child enters Kindergarten ready to learn.
Increase available 0-5 year old child care slots (1653 as of July 2021) by 10% (165) by the summer 2023.
Click HERE for Early Childhood Data.
“We’ve been expecting things to go back to ‘normal’ post-covid, but it’s just not happening.” This became a recurring theme in conversations between the AIM team and early childhood stakeholders early in the 2022-2023 school year. The stakeholders’ sense was validated when 2023 Fall FAST (an assessment of reading readiness among incoming kindergarten students) data was reviewed. The data was clear: kindergarten readiness is not returning to pre-covid levels in the way that assessments of older students are. Concerned with this trend, AIM approached Muscatine County’s Family Effectiveness Coalition to assess the factors affecting kindergarten readiness in our community, and to develop strategies to affect change. The group agreed to form a task force to explore the problem. AIM Director Kim Warren, Early Childhood Iowa Muscatine County Director Kaitlyn Wintermeyer, and Muskie Early Learning Center Principal Jessi Freers enrolled in StriveTogether’s Strategies for Systems Change course and have worked together to facilitate systems change conversations with the Family Effectiveness Coalition. To date, the group’s work has included data gathering, stakeholder outreach, and validation of hypotheses about factors affecting kindergarten readiness. Though the work is in its early stages, the group has identified four factors linked to kindergarten readiness in our community: preschool attendance, participation in community-based programs such as library groups or YMCA activities, quantity and quality of interaction with parents and caregivers, and the degree to which school facilities, policies, and communications are inclusive to families of all cultures. As these issues come into clearer focus through exploration, conversation, and data gathering, the group will soon use what it has learned to develop, test, and implement strategies to affect change in the coming years.
Although Iowa’s state funded voluntary preschool program addresses the tuition barrier to preschool attendance for 4 year old students, and tuition scholarships from Early Childhood Iowa fill the gap for 3 year old students from lower-income families, AIM noted in 2018 that students from lower-income families were still less likely to enroll in preschool, or to attend preschool regularly. Conversations with parents and other stakeholders revealed that working lack of transportation was a major barrier to preschool participation. Working parents whose children attended childcare during the work day were not able to to leave work to take their young children to or from preschool during the day, and other parents did not have the means of transportation, or found it difficult to load up their other children to transport a preschooler to and from school, especially part-day programs. In response, AIM partnered with Early Childhood Iowa Muscatine County, United Way, Muscatine Charities and a private transportation business to meet the need. This partnership remains strong today, with ten students receiving safe and consistent daily transportation throughout the 2022-2023 school year at no cost to their families. Participating families apply for this assistance through Early Childhood Iowa Muscatine County, are screened for income eligibility, and receive screening for developmental delays from UnityPoint Trinity Muscatine Public Health to ensure that they are receiving all the services they need to be well supported in preschool and beyond.
Obtaining high-quality, affordable childcare continues to be a challenge for many residents of Muscatine County. Muscatine County gained about 100 childcare spots from July 2021 to July 2022. However, this gain is due to an increase in Department of Education preschool spaces. While these spaces are essential, they don’t always include before and after-school care for working parents. Space available at childcare centers and homes decreased by 179 spaces over the same time period. To address these challenges, AIM staff worked with the Iowa Women’s Foundation to hold community conversations with large employers and childcare providers. This group looked at local data and how other Iowa businesses supported childcare in their communities. After these conversations, some employers decided to support childcare in Muscatine County.
HNI was awarded a State of Iowa Child Care Business Inventive Grant. Funds from this grant helped a new childcare provider, Birdie’s Nest, open in a closed childcare facility. This new provider, once fully staffed, will provide 98 childcare spaces. The Stanley Consultants Charitable Foundation supported a scholarship fund for students pursuing the Child Development Associate certification through Muscatine Community College. The Muscatine Community College Foundation matched their donation. This support will help 16 staff from local childcare providers obtain the training they need to offer quality childcare in our community.
Active Family Effectiveness Coalition Members:
Early Childhood Iowa Muscatine County
Iowa State University Ext. & Outreach-Muscatine County
Lutheran Services in Iowa
Mississippi Bend AEA
Muscatine Community School District
Muscatine Community YMCA
Muscatine County Conservation
Musser Public Library
Parents as Teachers
United Way of Muscatine
UnityPoint New Horizons
UnityPoint Trinity Muscatine Public Health