Tarrant County groups band together to boost early childhood education

“We want to open up opportunities” for children entering school, Fort Worth board President Jacinto Ramos said.
“We want to open up opportunities” for children entering school, Fort Worth board President Jacinto Ramos said. Star-Telegram

More than 100 bank and industry executives and child-care advocates converged at Lena Pope Home early Wednesday to brainstorm better ways to serve the city’s most vulnerable population of young children.

The group’s effort, known as Raising Fort Worth, intends to improve access to quality early education for children birth to age 5 from socioeconomically disadvantaged households, said Jacinto Ramos, board president for the Fort Worth school district.

“We want to open up opportunities in order to close the gaps to ensure that our children come into our district much better prepared; and the key to that must be education and awareness,” Ramos said at a 7:30 a.m. breakfast.

The effort includes a number of local organizations, such as The Miles Foundation, Camp Fire First Texas, Child Care Associates, Community Foundation of North Texas, Educational Alignment for Young Children, First3Years, Lena Pope, the Parenting Center, Rainwater Charitable Foundation and United Way of Tarrant County.

“We want you to bring your ideas and experiences to the table to help us craft steps to support quality early education in Fort Worth,” said Grant Coates, president and CEO of The Miles Foundation.

“We can’t make real change by ourselves. We need your personal experiences and perspective in the trenches ... of what works not everywhere else but here in Fort Worth,” he said.

Nancy Jones, president and CEO of Community Foundation of North Texas, spoke of child-centered programs in other cities, including Dallas and Austin. For example, Pre-kindergarten registration is on the rise in the Dallas school district, Jones said. And, this year, students in 136 Austin schools received 26,000 free vaccinations, she said. In addition, the University of North Texas Health Science Center has created a pediatric mobile health unit.

Similar programs are in the works in Fort Worth, she said.

“We can call it what we want here,” Jones said.

Child-care advocacy groups also released some early childhood statistics. For example, 85 percent of core brain development occurs by age 3. One in four children are not “ready to learn” when they enter kindergarten, speakers said.

“We have to do a better job equipping our parents and our child-care program [officials] with the tools they need to develop healthy children and healthy brains before they get to our school campus,” Ramos said.

Yamil Berard: 817-390-7705, @yberard