Angelica Light & Lisa Howard: E3 Program Offers New Approach to Early Education

March 02, 2020

Posted By
E3 Elevate Early Education

In 2002, business, civic and philanthropic leaders recognized a problem that they wanted to fix. Many of our region’s children were entering kindergarten not ready.

The Hampton Roads Community Foundation created Smart Beginnings South Hampton Roads, a nonprofit that was tasked with raising awareness, advocating for public-private investment and improving the quality of programs. We had raised significant private dollars but were not seeing public investment move in the right direction. We have been working on this issue for many years.

E3: Elevate Early Education, an issue-advocacy organization, was created in 2011. We took much of what we learned regionally and applied it to our statewide advocacy work.

E3 set out to make public investment in high quality early education a priority in Virginia. We worked closely with policymakers and stakeholders to develop a three-pronged strategy:

1. Define the readiness gap by creating the Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program (VKRP) in partnership with the Virginia Department of Education and the University of Virginia to assess entering kindergartners’ literacy, math, social skills and self-regulation skills.

2. Advocate for a Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission study and utilize the findings as a springboard for investments.

3. Demonstrate to policymakers that quality leads to all children being ready for school by creating The New E3 School, a prototype model for the state in Norfolk’s Park Place neighborhood that could be replicated and scaled.

Too often we hear people tout that programs must be high quality, but they neglect to define what that looks like in the classroom. Research tells us that the ingredients are a research-based curriculum, aligned professional development for teachers, coaching to improve what is happening in the classroom and assessment to improve teaching and learning.

Five years ago, we opened the doors of The New E3 School, a state-of-the-art mixed-income model for children ages 1-5. The past two years we have piloted a preschool version of the VKRP and can prove our model works for all children. It shows that when children from diverse backgrounds have access to the same level of quality, they enter school meeting or exceeding kindergarten entry benchmarks. All of our 4-year-olds left our school prepared to tackle the challenges of kindergarten and beyond.

These examples of public and private investment set the stage for the next phase of work. If we want to continue to move the meter in the right direction for kids, we must support fully funding Gov. Ralph Northam’s $95 million budget package and give our early learners the right start.

The legislation and budget will build upon the work that has been done and focus on the elements that we know matter for our children and families. The package will:

  • Close the access gaps for 3- and 4-year-olds.

  • Serve more children from low-income families.

  • Improve quality in the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) classrooms, our state funded preschool program for at- risk children.

  • Increase the per-pupil amount in VPI classrooms.

  • Create a quality rating system for publicly funded programs that helps parents access quality and serves as a marketing tool for programs.

  • Support early educators and classroom improvements in public and private programs through mixed delivery.

  • Transition state oversight to the VDOE.

According to the statewide VKRP data from this fall, 44% of Virginia’s children are not ready for kindergarten in one or more areas of learning: literacy, math, social skills or self-regulation. It is time to make our children a top priority, and that begins with investment in early education, K-12 and higher education.

When we started Smart Beginnings South Hampton Roads, E3: Elevate Early Education and The New E3 School, the four pillars of access, quality, equity and impact were at the heart of our work. These pillars are included in the budget package and should be fully funded by our legislature.

Angelica Light, former president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, chairs the board of directors for E3: Elevate Early Education and The New E3 School. 

Lisa Howard serves as president and CEO.