Knight Grants Offer School Readiness, Literacy Organizations A Chance to Test New Approaches in Long Beach

LONG BEACH – What will it take to give preschoolers in one of the neediest ZIP codes of Long Beach the support they need to enter school ready to learn? What difference would better-educated, better-paid child-care workers make in kids’ lives and in the school readiness equation?

Seven education and social-service organizations working together on school readiness will tackle those long-range questions with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, presented Monday night at a dinner at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

California State University, Long Beach will spearhead a five-year undertaking to improve literacy skills for more than 2,000 preschool children at nine child-care centers in the broadly diverse 90806 ZIP code – roughly Central Long Beach.

With a $1.3 million grant from the foundation, CSULB and its six partners in REACH (Readiness and Early Activities for Children from the Heart) will address a constant disruption in the field – staff turnover among the underpaid care providers. Financial and education inducements including stipends, training and additional college credits are among the strategies to be tested. Other partners in the project are Long Beach Unified School District, Long Beach Day Nursery, Young Horizons, Long Beach City College, City of Long Beach and Literacy Works.

“Getting any child ready for the rigors of life by the time school starts is a full challenge, one made all the more difficult by the conditions found in 90806,” said Hodding Carter III, president and CEO of Knight Foundation. “But few communities understand the lifelong commitment to learning better than Long Beach, and we’re pleased to support these collaborators.”

The grant to the REACH collaboration is the newest, and largest, addition to a portfolio of Knight Foundation efforts launched in the past year to improve preschool literacy and school readiness in 90806. A planning grant of $100,000 helped the REACH partners organize the effort. The National Center for Family Literacy received funding in March of $245,000 to boost its training and consulting services to the staff of the Cambodian Family Literacy Project, which is funded by Los Angeles County and housed at Burnett Elementary School. And a grant to Long Beach City College involves nine other agencies, including the public library, Head Start and the Children’s Clinic to bring literacy, health and child-development training and support services to operator of 20 family day-care centers.

Knight’s local advisory committee, chaired by retired businessman Jim Worsham, recommended the foundation focus its school-readiness efforts on 90806, in part to complement existing funding efforts there in workforce development. The ZIP code has a high concentration of need demonstrated by low income neighborhoods, gang activity and high rates of female-led single-parent homes. It also has assets – great diversity, the city college and Long Beach Memorial Medical Center – within its boundaries.

Along with grant funds from the Miami-based foundation comes the commitment to continue developing a variety of measurable strategies over the long haul to improve school readiness in a community noted for its seamless approach to education.

“There’s little doubt this is a risky undertaking, but Long Beach understands the power of collaboration and we’re willing, eager in fact, to see how far they can take good ideas,” said Carter.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of Long Beach and 25 other U.S. communities. It has invested more than $12 million in Long Beach nonprofits since 1986.