Investing in Early Childhood Education

First Steps InitiativeOur children’s first steps toward a healthy, happy future happen well before they learn to walk.  Early childhood education plays a vital role in shaping a child’s future, and robust support services provide children and their caregivers access to the healthcare, nutrition, and enrichment activities they need to thrive.

Established in 2016, First Steps is a network of agencies and individuals working to support young children and families in the New River Valley. The Fund for the NRV provides financial and in-kind support to the network.

Understanding the Need

  • The NRV has lower rates of kindergarten readiness and a higher percentage of children needing special education services compared to the state average.

  • 22% of children in the NRV live in poverty, with as high as 32% of children in Pulaski County.

  • Only 29% of children under the age of 5 underwent standardized screening for developmental delays. Children screened for developmental delays before entering kindergarten produce higher rates of academic and social success.

  • Expanding access to high-quality early education will help attract new businesses and business leaders the NRV, and will enable more parents to fill job opportunities as our region continues to grow.

Our Priorities

In late 2015, the Community Foundation engaged researchers from Virginia Tech to study the relationships between agencies supporting NRV children and families, their common challenges, and shared priorities. Respondents then came together in 2016 to see the results of the study and identify three priorities that they could pursue collaboratively.

  • Increase knowledge about and access to available services through an early childhood education and development information hub.

  • Identify shared values and messaging so agencies can speak with a common voice about the importance of early childhood.

  • Support and strengthen the early childhood education and development workforce through professional development, recognition, and compensation.

Activities and Accomplishments

First Steps consists of three working groups – Info Hub, Common Voice, and Workforce – that align with our priorities. Our recent activities have focused on building connections between providers and giving them the tools to advocate for themselves and their profession.

  • Hosted regular Meet Yourself sessions with service providers to share information about services, build relationships, and provide training on issues like kindergarten readiness and trauma-informed care.

  • Crafted templates for early educators and service providers to advocate for state, federal, and local support, particularly amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Honored over 100 NRV early educators at a January 2020 celebration at Wonder Universe: A Children’s Museum