BLOG: Growing Santa Monica's 'Cradle to Career' Initiative Beyond Schools

Can existing programs survive in the current economic climate?

Each community across the country is no doubt feeling the effects of state budget cuts and rising costs of education and community programs. In Santa Monica, our city leaders, administrators and policy makers are trying to figure out how to make sure our exceptional programs continue and to develop a cohesive system to ensure that kids receive quality education and guidance.  

There is an effort underway called the Cradle to Career Initiative, which is a collaboration of the City of Santa Monica, Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District, Santa Monica College, and community agencies and residents. The goal is to improve academic outcomes and effectively propel children, infancy through adulthood, toward a lifetime of health and success.

I had the privilege of attending a recent community dialogue on the development of a collective approach to an important segment of the cradle to career system— sustainable and innovative early childhood learning and out-of-school programming.  

Kids spend twice as much of their time out of school, as they do in the classroom. We are lucky here in Santa Monica because we have a wide variety of quality and diverse programs that in the past have met various needs, budgets and schedules, but can they survive in the current economic climate? Many programs are losing funding from the state and the challenge is and will be how to keep the doors open while maintaining and building quality and innovation. Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom here on the Westside yet, but agencies are being forced to be more creative and think outside the box.

St. Joseph Center’s Early Learning Center, without the restrictions of state funding, was able to launch a new innovative program that offers dual language immersion, flexible care schedules and the ability to outreach to a more socio-economic diverse clientele as well as those receiving subsidies.

Judy Abdo, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education member, pointed out that while government funding has good intentions, the accompanying mandated restrictions can unfortunately intentionally segregate economic classes by grouping lower income participants together.

“Is a new model, a blended model a better way?” asked Harry Keiley, president of the Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers Association.

We’ll have to wait and see.

RAND is working with the city, the school district and their key partners to address these issues.  ccording to Megan Beckett, behavioral scientist and professor at Pardee RAND Graduate School,  a key element of the collective approach is to align school day programs and initiatives with out of school time. Both need to communicate and work together to improve student achievement.  RAND recommends that a school administrator be assigned to act as a liaison to the out- of- school time programs.  

The City’s CREST after school program currently has a teacher liaison working at three of their elementary school sites, but the concept has yet to be applied in a uniform way to all of Santa Monica’s  after school and summer programs.

In the meantime the group came up with some unequivocal “Santa Monica” values which will help guide our early learning and out-of-school time programs towards addressing the ideals of our unique community. The goal for programs, whether essential childcare or interesting enrichment classes,  should be to offer engaging, high-quality programs that parents want; incorporate playtime and hands-on approaches towards learning; ensure that programs are equitable and accessible to all, including people with diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds and disabilities; invest in training our instructors and caregivers; engage intergenerational families in the programs so that everyone involved feels a sense of belonging to a community; and require safe and healthy locations and activities at all times.  

In the summer of 2012, Santa Monica’s Cradle to Career Initiative will release its first Child & Youth Report Card.


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