SKOWHEGAN — The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has awarded the Maine Early Learning investment group $300,000 to be delivered over the next three years to support its Elevate Maine-Somerset project.

The project is aimed at expanding quality early-childhood education for low-income children and their families in rural Maine.

The foundation joins other philanthropic and corporate organizations supporting the Elevate Maine-Somerset project in the greater Skowhegan area to close learning, social and emotional development gaps for about 100 children from low-income households before they enter kindergarten.

At the same time, the partnership is supporting parents to pursue and complete their education and gain workforce skills and employment.

Elevate Maine-Somerset uses the model started at Educare Central Maine, which serves about 200 predominantly low-income children and their families in Waterville.

Educare’s mission is to eliminate the achievement gap for at-risk children so that they enter public school on par with their more well-resourced peers, according to a news release from Lauren Sterling, of the Maine Early Learning investment group. The Kellogg Foundation knows that not all Maine communities can afford to construct an early learning school like Educare; but families, including those in rural areas, should have access to well-coordinated high-quality early care and education services, Sterling said.

Key to parent support in the project is a partnership with the Back2Work initiative created through the Somerset Economic Development Corp., in which training, adult education and other supports are addressed. Adult and parent problems can include a lack of transportation, access to child care, and substance abuse, said Heather Johnson, executive director at Somerset Economic Development Corp.

“The Back2Work connection is to get kids from these families into early education,” Johnson said. “Elevate Maine’s goal is to create that early education in Somerset County, they are doing the Educare work with the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, which is doing the programing on the ground in the greater Skowhegan area.”

The project plan is to work directly with the families who are not part of the workforce to help them remove the barriers to getting back to work, Johnson said.

“The program will work with the family to help remove their barriers, so it will look different for each family,” Johnson said.

The Kellogg Foundation, based in Battle Creek, Michigan, was founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer Will Keith Kellogg. It is focused on a child’s earliest years based on studies that show that over 80 percent of the brain is wired for lifelong learning and is more receptive and responsive before age 3 to experiences, both good and bad, than it ever will be again.

Economic and brain development research demonstrates that investing in early childhood development can prevent achievement gaps, improve child health, increase earning potential and provide a rate of return that makes it a good investment, according to Sterling.

Factors such as poverty, unemployment and adult illiteracy, or adverse childhood experiences such as exposure to domestic violence, substance abuse, or untreated mental health illness can interrupt successful early brain wiring and learning potential. Without consistent positive, high-quality developmental experiences to counter such stress factors, children are often not “school ready” when they enter kindergarten.

The gap, researchers found, also costs taxpayers, where in Maine 15 percent to 22 percent of school budgets go to fund remediation and special education services in kindergarten through grade 12.

The Elevate Maine-Somerset partnership is a part of a larger federal Early Head Start child care partnership grant awarded to KVCAP, designed to assist child care providers in meeting Head Start performance standards.

Partnering programs are in Northern Kennebec, Somerset, Piscataquis, and Penobscot Counties. Because the greatest needs were identified in Skowhegan and the surrounding rural towns that feed into School Administrative District 54, the foundation chose to dedicate the private investment match in the Somerset County and Skowhegan areas.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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