A nonprofit group has helped child care centers that serve low-income children in North Texas for the past 30 years provide an early, high-quality educational experience and has helped thousands of children.
Educational First Steps was founded in 1990, and Vickie Allen, its executive director, told Dallas Express the organization is thriving.
“EFS continues to grow due to the dedication of our board directors, passion of our team members, the generous support of philanthropists in the DFW area and the collaborative partnerships with the center directors as well as partners within the education space,” Allen said. “Our desire to grow is rooted in our belief that children get one childhood and one chance to maximize their brain development; most of which takes place between the ages of 0-3.”
EFS mentors teachers and also helps child care centers receive accreditation. Of 102 centers they are helping, 56 centers are accredited. “We have impacted over 4,000 children prior to the pandemic,” Allen said.
She said EFS’s greatest accomplishment since its founding “is training and mentoring teachers who then pour into the children that matriculate through school, graduate and eradicate the cycle of poverty in their families. We recognize that education is a bridge that elevates both the mind and improves the trajectory of those engaged in the process.”
The EFS focus is in the North Texas area, where it serves low-income children in under-resourced communities. Its reach is eight counties, but plans are in place for expansion.
“We have plans to expand regionally and share the impact that high quality education has on children and communities,” Allen said.
Allen explained the importance for children to have access to a quality education and care environment, especially from birth to age 5.
“Poverty, systemic racism, and a lack of community resources prevent many children from receiving the equal opportunity of a high-quality early childhood education, and the impact can transform the trajectory of a child’s life socially, emotionally, economically, and intellectually,” Allen said.
“Educational First Steps knows that children without access to high-quality early education can experience vocabulary deficits in which they potentially recognize only one-third to one-sixth of the words necessary to succeed beginning with kindergarten,” Allen said. “Such deficits can be insurmountable, and in the later years of the child’s education, these deficiencies require remediation that is only partially successful.”
Early learning deficits could have lasting efforts on children.
“Low-quality early learning environments leave children with underdeveloped social-emotional skills that further inhibit their ability to be equal and full participants inside the classroom,” Allen said. “The subsequent achievement gaps become debilitating and over time reinforce the social, economic, and political inequalities that plague our society.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted EFS goals and the centers it helps.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has threatened the entire early childhood education sector, more critically, the early childhood centers,” Allen said. “EFS pivoted from its original goals to provide a solution to help high-quality early childhood centers survive COVID-19. In April 2020, EFS established the Dallas/Fort Worth COVID-19 Relief Fund to provide immediate relief and gap funding to childcare centers within the EFS network.”