UGA Archway Facilitates Birth to Five Community Engagement in Whitfield County
Whitfield County, located in Northwest Georgia, became an Archway Partnership community in 2009 after local leaders, reeling from the impact of the recession on the floorcovering industry, reached out to the University System of Georgia to request assistance. Facilitated by Archway Professional Melissa Lu, the appointed Dalton-Whitfield Archway Partnership Executive Committee led an extensive visioning process to articulate long-term goals for the community. Through that process, the community identified key goals including developing successful birth-to-work strategies.
With a growing consensus that early learning opportunities and intervention are critical to success, community leaders set a goal that every student in the county will read on grade level by third grade. To reach that goal, the community realized that it must make critical investments in children ages birth to five.
In 2013, First Five was created through a partnership among the Dalton-Whitfield local elected officials, business leaders, and the UGA Archway Partnership. Sixteen members of the community were invited to form the coalition, consisting of leaders of the faith-based community, elected officials, non-profit agencies, business leaders, healthcare professionals, school districts, and child- care providers. UGA faculty member Dr. Katy Green, who holds a joint appointment between the College of Education and Public Service and Outreach, was hired to facilitate the committee and link higher education resources.
The goal of the literacy efforts in the Dalton-Whitfield Archway Partnership is to create and support a community of literacy by providing books to families and opportunities for parent and child education. The First Five committee, in collaboration with the Archway literacy initiative Readers to Leaders, raised funds for 17 book nooks to be placed around the Dalton-Whitfield community. These community bookshelves stocked with child-friendly books are being placed around town in areas where children and families wait for services, including pediatrician offices and utility companies.
Another program facilitated by the Archway literacy initiatives is called Reach Out and Read. Reach Out and Read is a national, nonprofit organization of medical providers who promote early literacy and school readiness in pediatric offices by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud. Two Dalton pediatric offices are currently implementing Reach Out and Read, with the goal of all major pediatric offices implementing the program in the near future.
Saturday Education Programming is another new and exciting initiative for young children and their families. The focus of these classes is on family education, school readiness, and building parent capacity. A six-week pilot program at the Dalton community center includes three classes: 1) Early Childhood Family Education, a class designed for caregivers and children that simulates a preschool classroom infused with education and health development; 2) parent- child early literacy education provided by collaborative efforts of the local library and Dalton State College; and 3) interactive story time with activities and games. All classes are offered in a bilingual format. This pilot includes more than 25 families, 80 percent of whom speak Spanish as their primary language.