Wilson County Parents “Beyond Grateful” for Tennessee Pre-K

How does Pre-K impact the lives of the children and families that participate? A group of Wilson County parents recently wrote letters to Lebanon Special School District leaders with their enthusiastic description of how the experience has advanced their children’s development and prepared their children to succeed when they attend kindergarten.

“My kids attending her class drastically impacted every part of [our twins’] lives and it is even more evident now that they are in Kindergarten,” wrote one parent. “They are both in the top percentages in their class and in the advanced reading groups. We are beyond grateful that our children were able to attend Pre-K and the positive influence from Mrs. Mandy (Pittman) on their education is immeasurable.”

This Lebanon parent, in a note to the Castle Heights school, said that Pre-K helped children overcome the separation anxiety that can come from being a twin.

High quality early education has been repeatedly shown to help children, especially economically disadvantaged children, close skill gaps and become “kindergarten ready,” both academically and emotionally.

Kristen Griffin, whose daughter attends Coles Ferry, echoed this sentiment regarding her daughter, Raegan.

“Raegan would come home most days bragging with excitement about what new project they were working on, the new sounds and shapes she recognized and all the fun activities they had done to make learning fun,” Griffin wrote to Lebanon School District officials. “She went in a great kid but came out an even greater kid with more confidence than ever and a passion for learning in the classroom. Going into kindergarten this year, she is reading above average and is excelling in math. We couldn’t be happier with our pre-K experience.”

Dr. Penny Thompson is instructional coordinator and director of Pre-K for Lebanon Special School District. She’s thrilled with the accolades from parents as they affirm the district’s high quality early education program.

“This response speaks highly of our teachers and program,” Thompson said. “We have teachers working effectively with students and their families so that children are successful in their educational career. Our program supports teachers, students and families. That approach facilities the excellent education that these students are getting.”

A Vanderbilt study in 2015 confirmed what Tennessee Pre-K teachers had been seeing for years: children are better prepared for kindergarten by attending Pre-K, academically and emotionally.

“Before Pre-K, my daughter was not used to being around children her age,” wrote Alejandra Vega-Rojas. “Being in pre-K with children her age taught her how to express her feelings, sharing and caring for others. It taught her how to be more independent. Most importantly, it prepared her for Kindergarten. My daughter attending pre-K was such an important start for her education.”

Tennessee’s voluntary Pre-K program serves approximately 18,000 children — roughly 42 percent of disadvantaged four-year olds — a number which has remained stagnant since 2007-8, even as wait lists in some districts continue to grow. Parents understand the value. A TQEE poll in September found that 94 percent of parents think voluntary Pre-K should be made available to all four-year-olds.

Kelly Norton’s children have seen the benefits, too.

“I started working with him when he was three years old because it was recommended for him to attend a pre-K program. He was behind, developmentally, and his pediatrician thought pre-K would be the best course of action,” Norton wrote. “I could tell my son was making progress, but at some point, something just clicked with him. He started to communicate with everyone at home better. He would tell me what he wanted. He would tell me about his day. He would tell me about his classmates, he even went so far as asking to go to birthday parties and friends’ houses. I believe that my son being in the pre-K program has a lot to do with his progress.”

And now that her second is in the same program, she’s experiencing the same results.

“My daughter has been attending pre-K for three months now. Since she started, I have noticed her verbal skills getting better and her making friends. This was a big deal to me as she has always been very shy and timid,” Norton wrote. “I believe this program is a wonderful thing for young children. On an educational level, this is such a phenomenal program, as they do the testing to make sure kids are developmentally on track and then address any issues a student may have. This pre-K program is the best foundation for any child.”

Great Pre-k Teachers Turn Play Into Powerful Early Learning

About two minutes into a conversation with Lenoir City Schools teacher and Preschool Program Director Melody Hobbs, you start to realize how much she has invested in learning how preschoolers work.

“I love the four-year-old mind. I mean, it’s not three and it’s not five. Right?” Hobbs says with a laugh. “I mean, it’s just so … four. They’re naturally inquisitive, they’re curious and they want to learn more. It’s such an explosive time for child development. All those early years are, so I say that in the context of what is exploding when children are four, but they’re beginning to put ideas together in their play, in their writing. They are being able to think about things they’re reading about and living them out, and building relationships, problem solving. They have a wonder about the world around them.”

Hobbs has immersed herself in the four-year-old mind for almost a quarter of a century now. As part of a pioneering Lenoir City Schools program that began serving pre-K children in the early 1990s, she has seen first hand what works and what doesn’t. She knows that having the preschool program in the same building as the elementary helps kids transition into a school setting. She knows how it aligns the kids with the kindergarten program, even though it’s a different environment. And she knows that play can be a powerful gateway into learning.

“Of course, we all know that environmental print is everywhere around and kids are so susceptible to be able to quickly identify, ‘That’s McDonald’s and that’s Burger King and that’s a Wendy’s logo,’ right? I mean that’s all this kind of environmental print,” Hobbs says. “What we’re hoping to really establish with young children is that they have ideas that can be written down and that those ideas can be written down in a way that can be read by other people. Children need to practice scribbling or painting big strokes on an easel to get those muscles ready to write those letters or also to begin to make letter-like formations that are mock letters. That would be a next step. Then maybe scribble marks.

“I have one of these great artifacts that this child — and it’s like three scribble marks on a piece of paper, okay — he came to me and he was like, ‘Alright ma’am, I see you ordered a sausage and pepperoni pizza and you wanted it delivered to this house.’ In his play he was writing down an order and an address and then going back and reading it, right? So, all of those kinds of ideas. We know all of that needs to take place in order to establish a firm foundation for what we would consider conventional reading and writing.”

Through this play, he is building early literacy skills by representing letters, words and ideas in print. At this stage, it does not matter what the print looks like as much as the use of print in an appropriate activity. This is the first step to becoming a proficient writer.

Kindergarten teachers see the benefit. Whether it’s the social/emotional component or just kids being able to concentrate on what the teacher wants them to do, preschoolers are able to be more “settled in their surroundings,” Hobbs says.

When kindergarten teachers spend less time acclimating students to school, being in a group, and engaging in a classroom, they get to spend more time teaching valuable skills aligned to important learning standards.

“I think what we, as a whole preschool, really provide for kids is the curiosity and the wonder of learning, to be a learner and to wonder and to question and to think. We were hoping that preschool is providing kids with problem solving abilities, to think outside the box, to see from someone else’s lens. I mean, all of these are kind of soft-skill social-emotional skills that are so critical for 4-year-old children, but yet are really those learning dispositions that we hope children tend again to acquire.” We know that critical thinking and problem solving are essential skills not only for success in school but also in work and life. These carry children through on whatever path they choose.

And sometimes that means just expanding on the playground.

“Certainly environments do matter and teaching does matter, but back in the day we used to have this old saying called ‘follow the child’s lead.’ What that meant was, whatever the child was interested in I would follow it,” Hobbs says. “The kids came with their hands cupped, you know about 10 kids around that found this daddy-long-legs spider, ‘Look what we found!’ Well, we’re talking about environment. Okay, and we’re talking about how plants and trees and animals and insects and people and land forms all make up environment. ‘Look what we found in our environment,’ they were saying that. Oh this is lovely, now we’ve got some language that we’re using, right? A big word, environment. What is it? Why, it’s a spider! Yes, it is a spider. Let’s look at this spider. Let’s look at his body parts. Let’s look at how many legs he has, how many legs, what makes him a spider and how is a spider different then from other insects? So, that whole opportunity, in the moment, following children’s leads, that’s good teaching.”

Through this play, children are not only nurturing their inherent sense of curiosity – vital to all learning – they are mastering critical literacy and science standards. They are acquiring new vocabulary words and discovering the multiple phases of the biological life cycle. When children are able to develop these concepts through meaningful experiences they not only retain the knowledge longer, they are also able to apply it to multiple contexts and situations. That is how standards are mastered and extended!

When in doubt, follow the four-year-olds.

Thanks for showing us how, Melody!

Mike, Lisa and the TQEE team

24-7-365 Childcare Supports Families in 21st Century Work World

How do you support a child? The answer is a little different now than in 1872, the year a group of women from Chattanooga churches opened a food and clothing pantry for orphaned girls.

The Chambliss Center has seen its mission change from pantry to orphanage to shelter to group home and finally, today, to a unique round-the-clock childcare center. But at the heart of every change was that they could meet the needs of children and parents.

“We really cater to those families who need maybe nontraditional hours also to those families who couldn’t afford to pay a traditional market rate kind of childcare,” says Katie Harbison, vice president of the Chambliss Center for Children. “All of our fees are based on the family’s ability to pay. So, it’s not just for the parent, of course, it’s also for the child to make sure they’re getting the highest quality early childhood education possible.”

In 1969, the year the then-Children’s Home began offering 24-hour-a-day childcare, late-night might have meant a parent working a second shift manufacturing job. But today, Harbison says that it could mean any number of things, from odd hours to a job that stretches into the evenings.

“We have a lot of parents that just need, later into the evening. If you think about working retail — the mall closes at nine and so they’re able to pick up somebody by 10 o’clock,” Harbison says. “Or, waiting tables, you work the dinner shift and you might be open until midnight, or one, or two in the morning. So, you really limit your income options when you limit which jobs you can take, which is limited by what childcare hours you can get.”

Expanding options for parents means the potential for a better quality of life for the family. It might allow a parent who works a traditional nine-to-five job to then pick up some additional work after the first job ends. It could also mean taking a second shift job that pays more.

“Those kinds of things, when you allow parents to have those additional opportunities, you can potentially change their financial situation and the future of that family,” she says.

And at Chambliss, the kids can receive the same kind of care and programming at odd hours that a parent might expect from a traditional daycare situation — circle time, nap times, meal times and outdoor times. Each year, their licensed, highly rated program (Three Star, the highest given by the state) graduates almost 70 children to public kindergarten classes. In addition to educational supports, Chambliss also helps identify any developmental delays a child might have and nursing students provide health screenings.

Early intervention, Harbison says, is crucially important.

“It’s the difference in night and day,” she says. “If you can catch a delay in a child that’s eight months old instead eight years old you have changed that child’s school career, and potential work career, and the rest of their life. A lot of delay, the earlier you catch them, the quicker they can be dealt with and these kids can potential go into kindergarten without any sort of delay. I’m sure you all know the statistic that 80% of brain development happens by the age of three. And so, not only is that important to educate a child before three but it’s also important to find that delay before three so you can quickly fix it, and then the brain can develop normally for the rest of the child’s life.”

And while the center also provides some social services for parents, it’s the educational part that Harbison believes is key to these children’s lives.

“These are parents who have a lot going on and so time is not something that is plentiful,” she says. “So, we wanna make sure that the children coming from these homes are getting the highest quality early childhood education possible because we know that that education is what’s going to help them be on track for kindergarten, which is what is gonna potentially change their future and could take that family out of the cycle of poverty.”

Starting at Home: Improving Early Learning Via Home Visits

Jennifer Pignolet of the Memphis Commercial Appeal wrote a terrific article last week describing Porter Leath’s home visiting program and its impact. Read her article HERE.

We’ve also written a blog post about a family served through Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee’s early home visiting program, which you can read HERE.

Home visiting professionals visit families in their homes to coach parents on how to support their child’s healthy development as well as offer connections to additional community resources and services to meet their child’s health, developmental and learning needs.

This evidence-based solution has repeatedly proven to strengthen bonding between mothers and infants, improve parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve health of parents and babies, and ready children for their school years. There is also considerable evidence that home visiting generates strong ROI: investments in home visiting programs reduce negative societal impacts immediately and in the long run, in turn saving taxpayers substantial money by providing a return of up to $5.70 for every $1 invested.

Under the Haslam Administration, Tennessee has been supportive of home visiting administered through the Department of Health and supported by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. This year, Representative Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) and Senators Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) led legislative approval for an additional $1.4 million in recurring funding to boost the annual home visiting budget to $3.4 million.

The preservation and expansion of these vital programs is essential for Tennessee’s most vulnerable children and families, but there are still far too many families with no access to help. At the current level of funding, Tennessee is able to provide home visiting services to only 1.7% of the children who would qualify for services. And of the 95 counties in Tennessee, 45 counties have no home visiting services at all.

Adding to the urgent need for expanded home visiting is the efficacy of home visiting services to combat the negative consequences of the opioid epidemic. Arguably, no state is affected by the opioid scourge more than Tennessee where last year nearly 1,000 babies were born addicted to the drugs and where there are more opioid prescriptions in our state than there are Tennesseans. The opioid crisis affects every Tennessee community, causing damage to families and posing dangerous risk to the healthy development of young people. Expanded home visiting can be a potent complement to Governor Haslam’s Tennessee Together plan to fight opioids because it can mitigate ACEs stemming from the trauma of substance abuse and strengthen bonds between parents and their children.

As we highlighted in newspapers across Tennessee this past April, investing in home visiting is smart policy for Tennessee. TQEE and our coalition members are engaging General Assembly leadership and will work with Governor Haslam’s successor to advocate support for high quality early childhood programs, including evidenced-based home visiting, as a priority.

Mike, Lisa and the TQEE Team

Witness the transformation of a child

Explaining what the Voluntary Pre-K program in Kingsport City Schools means to my son Samuel and me is a “where do I begin” task. My son Samuel has many health issues that have the potential to interfere with his education. He requires extra attention to the health issues, yet needs to be encouraged to be more independent. The amount of experience and knowledge that I have encountered has made the process not only easier, but so exciting for me and my son. The entire staff has always seen just Samuel, to the point that I was allowed to be a “normal” nervous mom initially. Every need, medically, socially, and emotionally has been met in such an appropriate, and discreet way, that Samuel has flourished into a confident and independent little boy. He has met academic goals that my older son, who was not able to attend pre-k, struggled with throughout Kindergarten. As a mother, I am so excited about how ready he is for kindergarten!! Forever, we will be indebted to the amount of love, professionalism, and knowledge that our Voluntary Pre-K program has provided us!!

Serve & Return: The Haslams and Building Strong Brains

In tennis, a strong serve and return game is fundamental for success on the court.

“Serve and return” is also the term scientists use to describe the positive adult-child interaction vital for optimal human brain development.   In the first few years of life, a child’s brain is the most impressionable, forming one million new neural connections every second to create the “wiring” that becomes the foundation on which all later learning is built. When an infant or young child “serves” through babbles, gestures, or cries, and an adult “returns” appropriately with eye contact, words, or a hug, neural connections are built and strengthened in the child’s brain.

Early childhood “serve and return” was major topic at the annual Building Strong Brains Tennessee ACEs 2018 Summit in hosted by Governor Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam in Nashville last week. The event attracted more than 325 leaders and influencers from across Tennessee for a daylong meeting focused on child brain science and reducing adverse childhood experiences.

Attendees included 10 members of the General Assembly, three Tennessee Supreme Court justices, eight state department commissioners, and representatives from law enforcement, business, health, education and local community agency partners engaged with the state. Large attendance reflects the Tennessee’s growing commitment to early childhood policies as a priority for Tennessee’s future.

Among the summit speakers was Al Race, chief knowledge officer and deputy director of the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University.  Harvard is a national research leader on the science of early childhood with a mission to develop more effective policies and services focused on the earliest years of life, especially for children facing adversity.

Race framed serve and return as a critical feature in the development of young children. Children engaged in strong serve and return experiences have the best potential to thrive. Family environment is paramount to the potential of serve and return.  Stressful family environments – caused by factors such as poverty, poor health, substance abuse, etc. – pose challenges that can limit positive interactions. For an infant or young child, a persistent absence of positive interaction can be doubly damaging: not only are they denied the positive stimulation and development, they can often become stressed, with negative and potentially long-lasting consequences for brain development.

Serve and return in a baby may look like this: When a young baby serves up a “coo” for attention, a parent responding with an engaging expression, comforting sound or light touch is doing more than showing attention. An abundance of science demonstrates that these adult-driven positive interactions, repeated over and over during the early years, strengthens brain connections in all the areas of a baby’s brain that develop emotional and cognitive capacity.

These interactions become more complex over time as infants become toddlers and then children. The serve and return experiences are extended to include peers, additional caregivers, and teachers.

Building Strong Brains is part of a larger Haslam administration policy program for early childhood development. The administration this month released Prioritizing Tennessee’s Children: Our Promise to Future Generations, a report highlighting work by Tennessee state departments, agencies, and partner organizations to improve the lives of Tennessee children and families. The report summarizes progress on children’s issues that include health, education and safety.

The report touts numerous successes resulting from an administration strategy in 2012 to form the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet and organize the departments of Health, Children’s Services, Human Services, Education, Mental Health & Substance Abuse, Commission on Children and Youth and Division of TennCare. Together they began working collaboratively on planning and policy to address the full early years’ spectrum of each Tennessean, from birth through early childhood and youth.

The Governor’s Children’s Cabinet honored numerous Tennesseans as “champions” in early child development, including:

  • Governor Bill Haslam, First Lady Crissy Haslam and Deputy Governor Jim Henry;
  • Senator Mark Norris (Collierville);
  • Adriane Johnson Williams, Pyramid Peak Foundation;
  • Barbara Nixon, ACE Awareness Foundation;
  • Linda O’Neal, former executive director, Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth;
  • Mary Rolando, health advocacy director, Department of Children’s Services; and
  • The Healing Trust, a Nashville-based grant maker.

Tennesseans for Quality Early Education is proud to be a collaborative partner with and to celebrate the good work of these organizations in prioritizing early childhood development in Tennessee.

Mike, Lisa and the TQEE Team

A Young Mother Learns to Help Her Baby Girl Thrive

Itzel is protective of her mother today, forgiving her with words even though she didn’t have the easiest childhood.

“My mom didn’t know any better and she definitely didn’t have anyone to turn to,” she says.

Itzel’s mother called her names and made her daughter feel unwanted and unloved. It’s tough to grow up strong when you are neglected and told that you are a burden.

As a young adult, Itzel found support four years ago at a community baby shower on the Tennessee State University campus. Newly pregnant and “completely scared,” she learned about Healthy Families, an evidence-based home visitation (EBHV) program from Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee (PCAT) designed to support parents from pregnancy through kindergarten.

Determined to be a better mother than her own, Itzel was attracted to an opportunity through Healthy Families to obtain strong parenting skills and to make certain her daughter has a bright future.

EBHV is nationally proven programming that is successfully applied in many Tennessee communities to assist young parents, improve their parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve health of parents and babies, and readly children for learning. EBHV is backed by compelling proof of strong ROI: a return of $5.70 in taxpayer savings for every $1 investment through reduction of costs for remedial education, public financial support, criminal justice and other societal impacts.

Through the course of her pregnancy, PCAT resources Nurturing Families and Healthy Families Tennessee provided in-home support that helped Itzel bond with her baby. Once a week, a PCAT representative came to Itzel’s house to help monitor her daughter’s progress, showing her how big Alia was growing while also counseling Itzel on what to expect once she arrived.

After Alia’s birth, the focus of Healthy Families turned more toward the young girl’s development, tracking progress and strengthening her bond with Itzel. For a new mother, every milestone presents challenges: Why is my baby crying? How will she learn to crawl? To walk? To speak? Dealing with development can be stressful and PCAT was there at every step along the way, from potty training to preparing Alia to begin school.

Through proven education and instruction from trained professionals, Itzel is now establishing a foundation for ongoing nurture of her child’s physical, cognitive and emotional development. The earliest years of a person’s life are foundational and long lasting.

Healthy Families is PCAT’s largest and most intensive program, intervening at a time in a child’s life when 80 percent of brain development occurs. This period is an essential building block for child success as it is fundamentally related to lifelong learning and health. .

The nonprofit uses the Growing Great Kids curriculum to teach a wide array of topics, including child safety and all aspects of development. The evidence-based program has been proven to improve maternal, newborn and child health as well as reduce child maltreatment. And for Alia, now 4 years old, it’s improved her readiness for school.

Itzel said the organization has made a difference in two lives.

“Without Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee and the support of my home visitor,” Itzel says, “I know that my relationship with Alia would have been exactly like what I had with my mom. And I’m so grateful that it’s not.”

Healthy Families helped again when Itzel met her husband Carlos, with a visitor helping the couple learn how to co-parent effectively, ensuring that Alia’s physical, social and emotional development continued.

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned from this program is how to develop trust between myself and Alia,” says Carlos. “I didn’t have that with my parents, and I think our relationship was negatively affected.”

The result of all of the time invested in Alia’s early years? She earned a scholarship to Overbrook School, a prestigious private elementary school in Nashville. Now she’s on a path for success with a strong home to support her.

Mike, Lisa and the TQEE Team

Tackling Tennessee’s Opioid Crisis Through Quality Early Learning Programs

Last week a group of Chattanooga leaders, including Mayor Andy Berke and U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann, along with TQEE coalition partners from business, law enforcement, military, nonprofit and faith communities, held a summit at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce titled “Caring for Young Victims of the Opioid Crisis”. The purpose was to highlight the epidemic’s growing adverse impact on parents and young children and how quality early learning programs can help them cope.

In addition to the elected officials, speakers included:

At the event, which was organized by the Tennessee office of Council for a Strong America,  a new report was released outlining how early childhood programs are a critical part of the solution to Tennessee’s opioid epidemic.

Exposure to family opioid-addiction and other substance abuse is one of a litany of adverse childhood experiences, known as ACEs, that cause emotional trauma which can diminish young child brain development, future learning and health. When young children have access to high quality early childhood programs such as evidenced-based home visiting, quality childcare and pre-k, their brain development is positively impacted and the negative influence of ACEs is diminished.

As the impact of childhood trauma continues to permeate child-serving institutions, Tennessee’s teachers, social workers, pediatricians and caregivers are changing the way they interact with children who have been subjected to ACEs. Of the many techniques and programs developed to provide trauma-informed care, home visiting is among the most studied and evidence-based approaches to mitigating or preventing childhood trauma.

Not as many people know as much about home visiting programs as they do about other types of early education, so we thought we’d take a minute here to share some information about it.

Home visiting professionals visit families in their homes to coach parents on how to support their child’s healthy development as well as offer connections to additional community resources and services to meet their child’s health, developmental and learning needs.

This evidence-based solution has repeatedly proven to strengthen bonding between mothers and infants, improve parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve health of parents and babies, and ready children for their school years. There is also considerable evidence that home visiting generates strong ROI: investments in home visiting programs reduce negative societal impacts immediately and in the long run, in turn saving taxpayers substantial money by providing a return of up to $5.70 for every $1 invested.

Under the Haslam Administration, Tennessee has been supportive of home visiting administered through the Department of Health and supported by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. This year, Representative Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) and Senators Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) led legislative approval for an additional $1.4 million in recurring funding to boost the annual home visiting budget to $3.4 million.

The preservation and expansion of these vital programs is essential for Tennessee’s most vulnerable children and families, but there are still far too many families with no access to help. At the current level of funding, Tennessee is able to provide home visiting services to only 1.7% of the children who would qualify for services. And of the 95 counties in Tennessee, 45 counties have no home visiting services at all.

Adding to the urgent need for expanded home visiting is the efficacy of home visiting services to combat the negative consequences of the opioid epidemic. Arguably, no state is affected by the opioid scourge more than Tennessee where last year nearly 1,000 babies were born addicted to the drugs and where there are more opioid prescriptions in our state than there are Tennesseans. The opioid crisis affects every Tennessee community, causing damage to families and posing dangerous risk to the healthy development of young people. Expanded home visiting can be a potent complement to Governor Haslam’s Tennessee Together plan to fight opioids because it can mitigate ACEs stemming from the trauma of substance abuse and strengthen bonds between parents and their children.

As we highlighted in newspapers across Tennessee this past April, investing in home visiting is smart policy for Tennessee. TQEE and our coalition members are engaging General Assembly leadership and will work with Governor Haslam’s successor to advocate support for high quality early childhood programs, including evidenced-based home visiting, as a priority.

Mike, Lisa and the TQEE Team

A single dad and his sons’ success

Charles Lampkin, a father of five, suddenly found himself as the sole parent of his five sons, with four of the them under the age of five. “I moved to Memphis from New York for a job and I did not anticipate being a single father, but those things happen and wound up with a 3 year old, a 2 year old, a 1 year old and one infant,” Lampkin recalls. “I was in trouble and looking for a daycare but a friend of mine suggested Porter-Leath instead because they are a school.”

Porter-Leath of Memphis, TN was founded in 1850 as orphanage. Over 100 years later, Porter-Leath switched its focus to children in foster care in the later stages of childhood. But far too often, interventions for these children focused on providing services well after problems started to arise. In 1999, Porter-Leath made a proactive approach to serve children at the beginning stages of childhood in order to lay a solid foundation for a child’s future.

As the sole grantee for Early Head Start, current contractor for all Head Start services in Shelby County, and a Pre-K provider for several municipal and charter schools in the Memphis metropolitan area, Porter-Leath serves over 6,000 low-income children and their families from birth to age five with high quality preschool services. Porter-Leath works with an extensive and growing list of qualified partners to provide comprehensive early childhood services that meet the full range of needs of children and families. These services prepare young children for success in school and provide their families with a full range of integrated and intensive support services to help them develop new futures.

Four of Lampkin’s sons attended Early Head Start and Head Start at Porter-Leath. “Porter-Leath was different for me because of the educational environment while a daycare would have provided just the basic needs for my children,” said Lampkin. Porter-Leath’s Preschool program strives to achieve measurable academic goals to insure students are ready for kindergarten on day one – academically, socially, and developmentally. To meet these goals, Porter-Leath uses a robust evidence-based curriculum and offers a dynamic array of health, disability, and nutrition services, all facilitated by the best-trained team of educators and family service providers.

“Porter-Leath was foundational for me because I saw what my children received and how that has prepared them for kindergarten. Now my second grader reads on a third grade level, my first grader reads on a second grade level, and my kindergartener reads on first grade level, that’s an achievement and I’m very proud of these guys.”

All Porter-Leath centers are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and are three-star facilities as evaluated by the Tennessee Department of Human Services. For reference, there are currently 34 NAEYC accredited sites in Shelby County; Porter-Leath has eight of those. When asked who he credits to his children’s early academic success, Lampkin says, “Half has to do with daddy, but half has to do with the foundation that came from Porter-Leath. Porter-Leath (also) teaches them socially how to get along with friends, friends that look like you and friends that look different from you.” One of his boys learned how to speak Spanish from his classmate while another learned advanced math skills. “He might not have had that lesson from me at home if we were doing the basic learning at home because I wouldn’t have thought of that.”

Lampkin is happy that the Porter-Leath staff and leadership is committed to the mission of quality early education. “I believe that these educators here set out to hire good quality educators and are committed to these young people to see them get it one step at a time. My children have benefited tremendously from that. My kindergartener recently wrote a letter back to his Head Start teacher to say thank her and tell her that he was ready for kindergarten.” Lampkin smiled saying, “He’s ahead of the game, he is ready, his grades are indicative of that he is ready!”

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