West Philadelphia Promise Zone Gets a Boost for Its Youngest Citizens

The William Penn Foundation and Drexel University have formed a partnership to help improve early education in West Philadelphia.

This partnership will support the West Philadelphia Early Childhood Education Initiative (WPECE) to increase high-quality child care in the Mantua, West Powelton and Belmont neighborhoods.

This initiative represents a multi-year private investment in pre-K and early literacy programs totaling almost $4 million. In addition to the William Penn Foundation, funders include the Lenfest Foundation and in-kind support from additional partners.

During January 2014, West Philadelphia was identified as a federal promise zone after competing in a competitive application process. Los Angeles, San Antonio, Kentucky Highlands and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma were also selected to be promise zones.

These communities will remain promise zones for 10 years, which will enable them to receive increased federal support.

“A child’s zip code should not determine his or her destiny, odds of attending a good school, or lifetime economic opportunities,” said Julián Castro, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in a statement. “This collaboration between the William Penn Foundation and Drexel University can serve as a model for other communities that are looking for innovative ways to rebuild neighborhoods and prepare the next generation for college and career.”

The initiative includes collaboration between local organizations, including LISC Philadelphia, the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children, Children’s Literacy Initiative, People’s Emergency Center, School District of Philadelphia to aid in the implementation of the program.

Funding will go to reforms in 23 day care centers, with the goal of increasing children attending high quality day care centers from 300 to 600. The initiative will offer training for teachers and center directors, with a focus on evidence-based best practices, and networking providers to develop peer support networks.

Funding will also go towards outreach and awareness programs for local families on the importance of starting children on an early learning path and recognizing developmental milestones.

“Children from low-income families who do not have access to high quality preschool start kindergarten with language and pre-reading skills 12 to 14 months behind their more advantaged peers,”  said Elliot Weinbaum, senior program officer at the William Penn Foundation. “High quality care can erase those gaps. Our hope is that by working together, we can create a significant improvement in the quality of early childhood education available in this community, and help start these children on a path that leads to educational, personal, and professional success.”

The William Penn Foundation was founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, and is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region through efforts that close the achievement gap for low-income children, ensure a sustainable environment, foster creativity that enhances civic life, and advance philanthropy in the Philadelphia region.

 Judith Fenlon is the editor of the Money and Business Section of The Chronicle of Social Change.

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Judith Fenlon
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Money & Business Editor for The Chronicle of Social Change