West Bank organization works to improve early childhood education

With $68,000 in grant money, the Cedar Riverside Neighborhood Revitalization Program started outreach and research on education in West Bank.

Kids enter the Brian Coyle community center on Thursday June 15, 2017.

Easton Green

Kids enter the Brian Coyle community center on Thursday June 15, 2017.

Maraya King

A Cedar Riverside neighborhood organization has tried to jump-start childhood education with a grant it received last year.

Since it received $68,000 grant from the Bush Foundation in June 2016, the Cedar Riverside Neighborhood Revitalization Program has made headway to raise awareness and identify priorities for early childhood education programs in the West Bank neighborhood.

“In a general sense the money has been used and is currently being used to conduct projects, publicize benefits and convene meetings with the parents,” said David Alderson, program development officer for CRNRP.

With help from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, the CRNRP is now a year into an 18-month project to improve West Bank’s early childhood education opportunities and accessibility.

Merrie Benasutti, associate director of the Center for Integrative Leadership, along with three University graduate students from the Humphrey school aided in the first phase of project: identifying the needs of the community.

The Humphrey students helped organize neighborhood forums and conversations on early childhood education for residents, Benasutti said.

If parents are aware of the benefits of early childhood education, demand for the services increases, which in turn encourages more resources and space, Alderson said.

Chad Ostlund, a graduate student involved in the project, said the group calculated about 600 children under the age of five in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood who could benefit from early childhood education.

Benasutti, Ostlund and other graduate students, along with CRNRP, also found barriers to early childhood education in the neighborhood.

Ostlund said Cedar Riverside lacks space for the education, with only four locations that can serve the programs. All four are equipped to handle a total of 100 children, he said.

Alderson said cost could also discourage parents in the neighborhood where many residents are immigrants and live below the poverty line.

Parents also struggle to communicate with coordinators and teachers due to language barriers, Ostlund said.

One of the most prevalent issues the Humphrey students found was a lack of knowledge about early childhood education and what services are provided.

Hussein Ahmed, secretary of CRNRP and an immigrant himself, said, “Where most of us come from, education does not begin until age five and early childhood education is never discussed.”

Ahmed, who has fought for an early childhood education program in the neighborhood since 2002, said the Bush Foundation grant helps reach parents like never before.

In the final months of the project, CRNRP will continue to raise awareness about early childhood education and its benefits while addressing community concerns, Alderson said.