2022 All-America City Finalist – Alliance, OH

When there is a need, no matter how large or how small, Alliance residents and organizations come together to address that need. Over the past 16 years, Alliance has invested in promoting early school success and equitable learning. In 2006, the Early Childhood Education Alliance, Inc. (ECEA) was formed as a nonprofit agency, partnering with the University of Mount Union, the City of Alliance and Alliance City Schools. ECEA strives to promote early school success and equitable access to quality early childhood learning. The desired outcome is for ALL children to have equitable access to quality early childhood learning and experiences, so that they enter school ready to succeed.

One of the strategies Alliance uses to meet this goal is the SPARK (Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids) program. The evidence-based SPARK program has been proven to raise the achievement levels of young children and competencies of parents, and has long-term effects that impact grade promotion and graduation. SPARK is a home visitation public service program that teaches parents about the developmental and learning needs of their children. The program promotes a positive relationship between the child, their families, a parent partner and the schools. Each participating child (ages 3-5) and a family member are paired with a parent partner. The parent partner works directly with the child and their family. The child is screened (cognitively, medically and socially) to identify any developmental delays. A developmental learning plan is then created based on the individual needs of the child. Parents are supported as they work with the parent partner to implement the learning plans. The parents meet with the parent partners during each home visit and are active participants in the educational visit. During each home visit, the child and parent receive a learning kit containing books, materials and activities to continue the learning beyond the monthly home visit. During the start of the pandemic, there were times that SPARK lessons were held via cell phone. ECEA worked with the Alliance City School District and housing authorities to provide hotspots for the children and families so that they would have Wi-Fi. Additionally, the ECEA team worked with the local internet provider to arrange free internet access for families throughout the pandemic. The city also provided ECEA with funding to purchase tablets, cases and unlimited data plans to ensure that all children had equitable access to their education.

Relational Supports
ECEA learned that 1 out of every 6 children in their 4-year-old cohort experienced a death during the pandemic. ECEA reached out to various community organizations for support to get counseling and grief services in place for the families. These services are open to all and free of charge to participants. Parent Cafes are also being offered to Alliance-area families. The Parent Cafes connect parents with resources while supplying them with job skills and training opportunities so that they’re able to acquire local careers with higher incomes and get out of poverty. Parent Cares are done in collaboration with FEMI (Family Empowerment Ministries) and the Stark County Educational Service Center.

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