UT System partnership invests in early childhood development

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Photo Credit: Jeb Milling | Daily Texan Staff

The UT System is partnering with Austin community leaders to improve educational attainment in Texas by focusing on improving the lives of Austin children.

In a speech last Wednesday, Chancellor James Milliken presented the most recent strategic plan for Success by 6, a coalition created by nonprofit United Way for Greater Austin. This new five-year plan will create programs and policies to support Austin children and their families before they enter kindergarten.

“I hope that I, and especially the UT System, can be part of expanding opportunities for early childhood development and education in Texas, needed here as much as anywhere in the nation,” Milliken said in the speech.

Success by 6 aims to close the opportunity gap for children from low-income families by creating more prekindergarten programs and supporting Austin families with young children through home visit services and parent education programs. Initiatives of this new plan include increasing mental health services in early-learning settings, increasing screenings for developmental delays in children and expanding nutritional programs for young children.

The coalition began seven years ago and has already had two three-year strategic plans since its creation. As part of this new strategic plan, the coalition will partner with UT-Austin students and faculty to work childhood development programs, such as work-study programs where UT students work with young children on reading skills.

“We have been very excited by the support that we received … from the UT community,” said Cathy McHorse, vice president of Success by 6. “I think we have more and more opportunity to grow and build on this partnership.” 

The UT System is invested in improving educational attainment of Austin children as they grow up, Milliken said in his speech. Children who are school-ready by kindergarten are more likely to succeed in grade school, which increases their likelihood to attend and graduate from college, said Jennifer Duc, a UT pediatric assistant professor and a community partner with Success by 6.

According to Success by 6’s website, children who receive prekindergarten education are more likely to be “School Ready” when they enter kindergarten, but only 34% of low-income families receive prekindergarten education at all. That poses a problem for Travis county, where more than one in three children under six are living in low-income households.

 

“Every dollar that you spend in programs that support those children pays dividends in the end,” Duc said. “It really sets a child up for success way beyond their preschool years … The earlier that we all as a community can support parents and children, the better the outcomes are going to be for the education and overall functioning of those children in the future.” 

Duc said Success by 6’s program is really important for populations at high risk of dropping out later in their educational career, such as children from low-income families.

“Programs that United Way is involved with are really important resources and bridges for the community to lift people, their educational attainment and their overall station in life,” Duc said.