The mission of the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County is to provide unified leadership, support and guidance to ensure that the children of our community have the opportunity to reap the benefits of developmentally appropriate, research-based school readiness and VPK programs, respecting the role of the parent as their child’s first teacher.
While many of the duties of the Coalition are set forth in State statute, the Coalition remains an independent non-profit. Over 15 years, the Coalition has increased its reach in the community. Currently we contract with over 750 small businesses in Orange County who touch the lives of over 26,000 annually.
We, at the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County, are working harder than ever to be an unwavering resource for local families and promoter of future academic success for the children of this community. Investment in early learning programs is essential to eliminating the learning divide that starts before kindergarten and can last for a lifetime. Recognizing that the early education of our youngest citizens is also imperative to our community’s vitality and future economic/social growth, we are dedicated to expanding our resources, keeping up with the increasing need for quality early care, and inspiring the leaders of tomorrow – our youth.
With such a large impact to be made, we can’t do it alone. We are thankful for a proactive board of directors who help foster strategic partnerships, serve on our task forces and assist with special events and programs - all of which help generate additional resources and revenue. These dollars increase the number of children served and elevate the quality of care provided in centers and family child care homes. Our programs are also strongly impacted by community partners, business leaders, corporations, foundations and policymakers everywhere who support, encourage and inspire us.
The strongest structures are built on strong foundations. By supporting a child’s development early, we are helping to build a strong foundation for their future. Change the first five years and you can change everything!
Karen Willis, CWDP
Chief Executive Officer
Since its inception in 1999, the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County has worked to promote high-quality, developmentally appropriate early learning programs throughout Orange County. Our work builds the foundation for academic success and supports an economically healthy Orange County.
Stagnant funding since our inception reduces our buying power and the ability to serve Orange County children and families. Despite this, the Coalition’s staff and Board of Directors have continued efforts to produce an integrated, high-quality, seamless service delivery system. Our focus and energy are dedicated to developing innovative ways to ensure that all Orange County children develop the skills necessary to enter school ready to learn.
In this, the tenth year of VPK classes, we understand the Coalition's success has been and remains dependent on the support of a cross-section of community partners. These business leaders, corporations, foundations, and policy makers give of their time, talent, and treasure to support our mission. These allies give us hope that our charge to combine public and private resources to create an early learning system that Orange County can be proud of is within our grasp.
It is imperative that we continue to strive to achieve our mission. Government alone can’t fix our problems. We know it will take an abundance of strong partnerships, forged between the public and private sectors, to respond to the needs of our most vulnerable population - our children.
We need only look into the eyes of children to see we have a responsibility to help them succeed. Their success is the legacy we leave.
The Coalition serves all children in Orange County, Florida with special focus on children from birth to age five.
We also provide scholarships for 4 year-olds, regardless of income, to attend Florida's Voluntary Pre-kindergarten program. Research clearly shows that for every 100 children who start school behind, almost 90% are still behind 4 years later. The reason for this lack of readiness is often the 30 Million word gap experienced by children in low wage families compared to those of wealthy families - making these early education scholarships paramount to their future potential and success.
The ELCOC also promotes high-quality standards among ealry learning service providers in Central Florida by providing training and technical assistance to improve teacher preparation, which promotes better outcomes for children. Currently, ELCOC funds over 25,000 children annually across 750 small businesses in Orange County. The organization also provides large quantities of books, supplies and manipulatives to enhance the learning environment.
The ELCOC partners with non-profit, government, private funders and business leaders to raise required matching funds ($15.67 for every $1 raised locally) and to expand services beyond those afforded by state and federal funding.
Our 3 to 5 year strategies include increased fund raising to reduce the current wait list (over 7,000 children), revised messaging to enhance fund and friend raising efforts, and expanded community engagement to place more volunteers into early childhood sites as Ready Readers and Book Buddies. Additional strategies include expanding access to basic early learning teaching credentials as well as supporting attainment of both Associate and Bachelor degrees in early childhood.
We also are seeking new sponsors to expand our successful parent engagement strategy (Baby Institute) beyond the historic Parramore area. Baby Institute is modeled after the highly touted Harlem Baby College.
And lastly, we are developing strategies to install the Nemours' BrightStart curriculum, Teaching Strategies Gold Early Childhood assessment, and the CLASS teacher/child interaction inventory within every early childhood site serving children from working poor families to close the 30 Million word gap.
We believe the infusion of these strategies will promote long term change in the quality of early childhood services in Orange County and lead to higher numbers of our community's children entering school ready for future success.
The ELCOC also offers family literacy training and workshops mainly through an ongoing contract with OCPS and recently expanded support to Milk and Muffins and UCF reading camps.
Providers who are participating in Early Head Start are required to use Teaching Strategies GOLD for child assessment and CLASS for teacher/child interaction. This requirement goes a long way to institutionalize the importance of these tools to promote program quality.
The ELCOC is currently working with Nemours BrightStart to increase the number of early childhood sites implementing this tools to promote language and literacy development.
The ELCOC is working with VISTA volunteers to increase the number of Ready Reader volunteers in 3 and 4 year-old classrooms.
Lastly, the ELCOC is working with the Orlando Science Center to infuse math and science concepts into early childhood classrooms.
We have a dedicated staff of 47 full-time and 10 part-time change agents who are dedicated to improving outcomes for children. Each of our department directors have over 10 years experience in their assigned area. Our CEO has over 35 years of experience in managing publicly funded programs.
We have a long history of sound fiscal and program management with a state and federally funded infrastructure that allows us to direct all private and foundation funding to program expansion.
Our ability to generate matching funds ($15.67 for every dollar generated locally) allows us to provide a strong Return of Investment (ROI).
Our Board of Directors is composed of key community leaders from both the public and private sectors. Their reach is significant into our community.
We have strong relationships with community partners who work in supporting fields including Head Start, Early Head Start, Adult Literacy League, Healthy Start and Healthy Families.
The ELCOC uses the state kindergarten readiness assessment to measure overall success. This assessment is administered by Kindergarten teachers to every child in public kindergarten during the first 30 days of school.
The second strategy the ELCOC uses is provider implementation of strategies demonstrated in research to make a difference in outcomes for children. Thus we review the number of providers using a research based child assessment and teacher/child interaction tool. The tools that we endorse are Teaching Strategies GOLD and CLASS. Teaching Strategies GOLD is an assessment tool available to teachers that enables them to increase the effectiveness of their academic assessments, while having more time to engage with their students. The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) is a tool that objectively measures the quality of teacher/child interactions and helps pinpoint strengths and potential areas for growth in early education classrooms.
Since 2011, 188 parents participated and 126 parents have graduated from Baby Institute (BI), with 393 children birth to age five benefitting from their family’s commitment to supporting their development.
While all cycles of Baby Institute, with both infant and preschool parents, showed gains in knowledge over the course of the program, during the most recent year where data is available, parents of infants showed a 25 point increase in knowledge of appropriate parenting behaviors.
During the 2014-15 recent school year, 17,981 children (unduplicated count) benefited from participation in the School Readiness program.
The long term success of the program is to continue providing stability to eligible low-income families by offering school readiness services for children ages birth to 5. The goal is to give those children the opportunity to attend an affordable, quality early learning program, which will ultimately prepare them for entrance into kindergarten. Once in kindergarten, the children now have a head start on educational requirements that will stay with them throughout their educational years.
- Helps prepare eligible four year-olds for kindergarten.
- Helps ensure eligible four year-olds are ready to learn when entering kindergarten.
- Helps families of eligible four year olds have access to quality early learning programs.
- Helps families become more engaged in their child’s early education
The Parramore Kidz Zone (PKZ) Baby Institute is funded by the ELCOC, the Central Florida Foundation Children's Legacy Fund and the Ounce of Prevention. The PKZ Baby Institute program is for parents of children between the ages of birth to five years residing in the Parramore Heritage community. The nine-week Baby Institute is designed to help parents of young children build knowledge and skills that result in better parenting, which will lead to better school readiness outcomes for children.
a. For graduation goals, Baby Institute consistently achieves a 70% + graduation rate for parents who attend at least one class. This is an achievement given the dynamics of the targeted families.
b. For parent attendance, Baby Institute consistently achieves its recruitment goal of 15 parents per cycle. Nonetheless numerous make-up sessions are required to get parents to graduation.
c. For child attendance ages birth to 5 years of age, Baby Institute attendance by younger children (which is the target audience) is highly dependent on the age of the participating parents. Child participation is also impacted by illness, shared custody responsibilities and parents who have work immediately after Baby Institute.
d. For child attendance ages five years and older, as indicated above the age of the children attending Baby Institute is highly impacted by the age of parents. During sessions where parents are older their children generally are older thus impacting the actual age of participating children per cycle. Again, numbers are also impacted by the number of families with younger children participating in Baby Institute.
“S”, is an unemployed, African American female (34), mother of five children (ages 3 to 15), resident of the Parramore community, and a survivor of domestic abuse. “S” came to the Baby Institute to enhance her parenting skills, find support and gain resources for education and employment. She admitted that nutrition/healthy living was not a priority for her and her children. “I am just surviving the best I can. All I want is to give my kids a meal, let alone a healthy one.” She states that she has desired to exercise more but never got motivated enough. “I never wanted to admit that I had weight issues. I want to improve my health to overall have a better life for me and my kids.”
“S” has a new view on health, nutrition and parenting and thanks the Baby Institute for the care and support shown to her and her family. “I read more to my children at least 4-5x per week...I am much more motivated now to do better as a parent...My kids and I eat five meals a week together...We eat more fruits and vegetables along with our protein. We make cooking a family time and way to talk about our day. We have even begun to exercise 3x a week. We are now excited about being healthier.”
Orlando Cares addresses community challenges – Youth Education and Youth Crime Prevention – by mobilizing caring citizens as volunteers to be part of the solution. In September 2010, Orlando was awarded a Cities of Service Leadership Grant by the Rockefeller Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies to develop an evidence-based, comprehensive service plan. Through a collaborative process, hundreds of community stakeholders helped to design Orlando Cares and its six service initiatives.
The Preschool Ambassadors’ volunteer program is a partnership between the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County, the City of Orlando, and the Adult Literacy League. The key is the Ready Readers Program, which matches volunteer readers with classrooms for 3 and 4 year-olds in participating early childhood centers and homes.
20 volunteers have been trained as Ready Readers, who go into VPK classes and read to small groups of children on a consistent basis.
“I am grateful for this grant money and the way it is being used. It has helped my staff become better trained and more confident in their skills working with both the infants and the parents they care for every day. We have added one new infant and toddler room since this program started.….more of our youngest children are benefiting by getting a step ahead with getting the best care that is possible.” (Director who had two staff complete the program)
“They are babies but they understand when you talk to them, you are relating to them and make them feel at ease, they can count on you to be there for them when they need comfort. (Teacher, Infants)
“This class has made me more aware of my teaching skills and how to detour behavioral issues in a positive manner” (Teacher, Two-Year-Olds)
“I would like to say, first and foremost, I love the BrightStart! program and feel honored to be chosen as one of the teachers to implement this program as I prepare to my students to enter kindergarten. My first success story comes from a little girl that I had the pleasure of working with. When we started the year off [she] would always seem shy because she would always [whisper] and at times this would be a challenge for me because I would find myself not sure of exactly what she was trying to tell me. As we started the BrightStart! program...it helped this little girl to come out of her shell and helped build her confidence. Now she loves to share and speak out loud and has accomplished and learned new things. The program has helped me teach [my class] syllables. I love the way it has taught me to help my children break down words...say the word fast, then slow, then clap out each part of the word.
As the Coalition’s CEO, Karen is responsible for overseeing the investment of more than $65M in State and Federal funding focused on helping prepare Orange County children for school and providing working poor families with access to high quality childcare for their children.
Karen began her service to the children of Orange County in January 2007 after serving as Executive Director of the Seminole County Early Learning Coalition for three and a half years.
Prior to that Karen served as:
- CEO for Workforce Investments providing One Stop employment services annually to over 30,000 job seekers in Indianapolis, Indiana
- Executive Vice President of the Indianapolis Private Industry Council (now commonly known in Florida as CareerSource Boards)
- Chief Policy Analyst for the State of Indiana Workforce Agency
Karen holds a BA from Valparaiso University, a MPA from Indiana University, and a TQM certificate and Servant Leadership certificate from Indiana University.
She is the recipient of the 1994 National Association of Workforce Development Professional’s Award for Advancement of the Profession in consideration for her contributions to building One Stop integrated service delivery. In May 2001, Karen was also recognized by the organization as a Certified Workforce Development Professional (CWDP).
In her own words, “I left an industry I loved because I was tired of seeing young adults enter the workforce without the pre-employment and academic skills needed to compete in a global economy. Early Learning is where it starts.”
Leonardo Almanza is the Director of Finance for the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County. He oversees the financial management responsibilities at the Coalition. Leonardo’s professional experience includes over nine years in the non-profit arena managing and administrating Federal and State funded programs. Previously, he served as second in command within the finance department at ELC Southwest Florida ensuring the accounting, management and compliance for both the School Readiness program and VPK program, as well as assisted the Chief Financial Officer.
He is a resident of Orange County, FL since 2000. He graduated from University Intercontinental in Mexico City with a BS in Accounting, Certificate in Accounting from Pierce College in California, and a Certificate of Leadership from Rollins College.
ELCOC collaborates with several community partners to increase access to early learning services, enhance the quality of services offered, and to build language, literacy, math and science skills, addressing the 30 Million word gap and STEM skills needed in the future.
Since 1999, the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County, has worked to promote future academic success for the children of this community. This focus is embodied in the Coalition’s framework, our mission and vision. It drives our continued commitment to regain an economically healthy Orange County which begins, in part, with high-quality early learning access available to all of our community's children.
Of course, this mission doesn't come without challenges. We are working with limited resources while the need for quality early care and education programming increases. However, we still move forward with the help of community partners, business leaders, corporations, foundations and policymakers everywhere who support, encourage and inspire us. We don’t do it alone.
We will proceed to build strong, strategic partnerships and be advocates for quality early care and education with the help of volunteers, such as our board of directors, and community partnerships focused on early learning outcomes. We are proud of our accomplishments and we look forward to continue meeting the needs of Orange County’s youngest citizens.
Indirect Public Support HelpIndirect public support represents revenue received through solicitation campaigns. This includes funding United Way and other federated fundraising organizations, but does not include donor designated contributions.
Earned Revenue HelpEarned revenue represents income generated in direct exchange for a product or service.Earned income includes income from government contracts.
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