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Education grants focus on early learning

AKRON, Ohio (Feb. 26, 2013) – On Friday, Feb. 22, Akron Community Foundation’s board approved $1.85 million in grants, including 279 grants totaling $1,402,022 from designated, donor-advised, agency endowment and scholarship funds, and 20 grants totaling $450,000 from discretionary, or board-directed, funds. 

 
The SPARK program prepares children for kindergarten
and equips their parents to become their first and most
important teacher.

The majority of discretionary funding went to early learning programs that help prepare young children for success in school. A $15,000 grant to Greenleaf Family Center will fund a home-based early education initiative for 3- and 4-year-old children in the Akron Public School system. The SPARK program holistically addresses children’s educational, developmental and social-emotional needs to remove any non-academic barriers to success, including speech and language delays and mental health issues. 

The program includes a series of intensive home visitation sessions with a Parent Partner who, in addition to evaluating and teaching the child, also empowers parents to become their child’s first and most important teacher. The primary goal is to create a smooth transition into kindergarten for children, their parents and the schools. 

“Each year, too many children enter kindergarten unprepared to learn, and many will struggle to catch up,” said Greenleaf President and CEO Judy Joyce. “By preparing children for kindergarten, we can reduce the risks and costs associated with repeat kindergarteners and increase the chances of producing confident, ready children.” 

Joyce pointed to data showing children participating in the SPARK program statewide scored higher on the Ohio Department of Education Kindergarten Readiness Assessment – Literacy (KRA-L) than those who did not participate. These same children also scored significantly higher on the third grade Ohio Achievement Test. 

Joyce hopes to replicate these results in Akron, as KRA-L data shows a large number of children in Akron Public Schools are starting kindergarten with significant learning disadvantages. In fact, only 25 percent of SPARK participants are enrolled in preschool or a similar preparatory program. The $15,000 community foundation grant will bring SPARK to families at Crouse, David Hill, Glover, Leggett, Mason, McEbright and Robinson community learning centers during the 2013-14 school year. 

The SPARK program is one piece of a countywide effort to create a holistic early care and education plan for Summit County. The First Things First initiative, started in 2009 with the support of Summit County Executive Russ Pry, aims to integrate early education services across the county and develop a system where information and resources are shared among agencies. 

Ideally, Joyce said, participants in the SPARK program would also be served by Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority’s Early Childhood Initiative and Project GRAD Akron’s Bridge to Kindergarten program, both of which received grants from Akron Community Foundation. This cohesive, age-based continuum of services gives young children the best start possible not only in school, but in life.  

“By providing these services for the families and school districts in the Akron area, we are linking ready children to ready schools,” Joyce said.

This was the fifth consecutive year Akron Community Foundation’s board gave priority to early care and education, bringing total funding for such programs to $1,129,000 since 2009.  

The 20 board-directed grants totaling $450,000 were approved from the following field-of-interest and unrestricted funds, which were created by charitable residents to support emerging needs in our community: the V.E. (Tom) Atkins Fund, Charles C. and Dorathea S. Dilley Fund, Arthur Kelly Fund, William C. Krisher Fund, Helen S. Robertson Fund, James G. Robertson Fund, Roush Memorial Fund, Shaw Foundation Fund, Ronald L. Stiles Fund and the Community Fund.

The following is a complete list of the discretionary grants:

EARLY LEARNING GRANTS
Asian Services in Action Inc., for the Ready Program, an early childhood development program for children in refugee families, $12,500

Building for Tomorrow, to continue early education programs, special-needs assessments, comprehensive health services, and family support services for children under age 5 living in AMHA housing communities, $95,000

Child Guidance & Family Solutions Inc., for the Toddlers and Preschoolers Succeeding Program, which evaluates, cultivates and enhances the social and emotional well-being of children at child care centers in Summit County, $65,000

Greenleaf Family Center, for the SPARK program, which prepares 3- and 4-year-olds for kindergarten through home visitations that address children’s educational, developmental and social-emotional needs, including speech, language and mental health, $15,000

Project GRAD Akron, for the Bridge to Kindergarten school readiness camp for students and their parents in the Buchtel cluster of Akron Public Schools, $25,000

Summit County Family & Children First Council, to implement a standardized developmental screening and referral process for all children ages birth to 5 in Summit County as part of the First Things First initiative, $25,000

OTHER DISCRETIONARY GRANTS
Akron International Friendship, for the Know Your Community – Know Your World project, which teaches sixth-graders in Akron and Tallmadge schools about the importance of ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, $5,000

Akron Public Schools, for Destination College, which prepares high school students for college by helping them improve their ACT scores, complete their applications and apply for financial aid, $15,000

All-Star Training Club, for the Summer Academic Sports Camp for children and young adults with disabilities, $10,000

Arc of Summit & Portage Counties Inc., for the People Together program, which increases disability awareness and acceptance among students in Summit County schools, $10,000

Big Brothers and Sisters of Summit and Medina Counties Inc., for community- and school-based mentoring programs for at-risk youth, $10,000

Boys & Girls Clubs of the Western Reserve, to build capacity and support after-school programming that encourages good character, physical health and academic success in at-risk youth, $70,000

First Book, to purchase books for children living in poverty, $7,000

Hattie Larlham Community Services, to support a sustainable agriculture vocational program for adults with developmental disabilities, $20,000

Junior Achievement of North Central Ohio Inc., for JA More Than Money, which teaches workforce readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy to third, fourth and fifth graders in Akron After School programs, $10,000

Project LEARN of Summit County, to prepare GED candidates to pass the current test and avoid restarting the testing process when a new version is released in 2014, $23,000

Research Education & Charitable Association for the Benefit of the Chefs & Farmers (Veggie U.), to purchase Earth to Table science kits, which teach fourth-graders in Akron Public Schools about sustainable agriculture and healthy eating, $10,000

Tri-County Jobs for Ohio’s Graduates, to support the Dropout Recovery Program, which provides academic and employment support to Summit County youth who have dropped out of high school, $10,000

Twinsburg City School District, for the Project Star summer reading program, which aims to improve reading proficiency in elementary school students who are reading below grade level, $5,000

Young Men’s Christian Association of Akron Ohio, to provide after-school programming that teaches life skills and healthy behaviors to at-risk teens, $7,500

About Akron Community Foundation
Celebrating 57 years of building community philanthropy, Akron Community Foundation embraces and enhances the work of charitable people who make a permanent commitment to the good of the community. In 1955, a $1 million bequest from the estate of Edwin Shaw established the community foundation. Today, it is a philanthropic endowment of more than $140 million with a growing family of more than 400 funds established by charitable people and organizations from all walks of life. The community foundation welcomes gifts of all kinds, including cash, bequests, stock, real estate, life insurance and retirement assets, just to name a few. To date, the community foundation’s funds have awarded nearly $105 million in grants to qualified nonprofit organizations. For more information about Akron Community Foundation or to learn more about creating your own charitable fund, call 330-376-8522.