March 1, 2009
Each year too many children start kindergarten unprepared to learn. Many will never catch up. The reasons for this are complex, but this much is clear: The multiple systems – from family to schools to government – that should be supporting young children too often are failing to do so. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation seeks to change that, and to permanently improve systems that affect children's learning.As policymakers look for ways to improve student outcomes by creating "seamless" systems of education starting at preschool, communities have been getting it done. SPARK (Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids) — a fiveyear initiative funded by the Kellogg Foundation — has contributed a unique, community-based perspective to the national conversation on what it takes to effectively link learning systems. In particular, SPARK examines what it takes at the beginning of the education pipeline to link early learning to the early grades. The goal is to make sure that children are ready for school and that schools are ready for them — a formula critical for a lifetime of successful learning.SPARK efforts are deeply anchored in the community and are designed to assure that children are successful both before and after they enter school. The strategy of working with schools, early care and education providers, families and community partners has yielded a set of proven ways to align local systems of education — approaches that have been tested in diverse rural and urban communities in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio and Washington, D.C. What SPARK community-based sites have done to create connections across local systems of learning stands to influence larger school reform issues and state policy discussions about what is needed to create a more holistic learning experience for children — one that results in academic success at grade three and beyond.