The DEPEND early childhood evidence-based program(EBP) is driven by the vision that every child in Philadelphia will have access to excellent early cognitive, physical, spiritual, and socio-emotional education. DEPEND is a synthesis of EBPs in these four areas that research has linked to future school readiness, literacy and numeracy, emotional regulation, pro-social behaviors, and fewer preschool expulsions (Knudsen et al., 2006; National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2007; Perry et al., 2006). Few early childhood learning centers in schools or communities employ the best early childhood mental health and educational EBPs that improve outcomes for children and their families. This scarcity and lack of sustainability have been linked to a lack of standardized preschools that offer affordable, diverse and joyful spaces equipped with cutting edge programs that provides quality education, meaningful relationships, and discovery for the whole child. One key exception to this critical early childhood learning gap is evident at Arch Street Preschool(ASP). Using humans -teachers, staff, and families- as their key technology, ASP has implemented and disseminated the innovative DEPEND early childhood EBP which has been rewarding families, especially the most vulnerable, for the past 2.5 years for children aged 2.5 -5 years.
DEPEND shows how to create excellent early childhood programs; 100%of children in the DEPEND EBP have successfully entered and completed kindergarten due to:
- Diversity: Reflected in our staff, board, children, and families who help to bridge racial, cultural, and socio-economic divisions.
- Education: Includes an adaptation of the Responsive Classroom to fit an early childhood environment and the intentional modelling of good character, healthy conflict resolution, and joy.
- Play: Free or guided, PLAY occurs indoor/outdoor for at least 5hours daily with movement and hands-on activities using sand, water, and soil.
- Engagement: Evident through parent groups, family nights, and community organizations that provide art, music, science, and mental health resources to our children and families.
- Nurture: The love for children, families, and staff is our foundation. Our staff benefit from flexible schedules and professional development.
- Discovery: Delight and awe are met through individualized creative play areas.
Organizations interested in children’s healthy development have taken notice of the ways in which Arch Street Preschool(ASP) uses DEPEND to integrate early childhood mental health with a play-based curriculum to support positive outcomes for children. Two examples of organizations that have mirrored some of the DEPEND EBP in partnership with ASP are highlighted here. Soccer Shots supports the economic Diversity initiative by reducing their costs to allow all of the children at ASP to participate in soccer, a Play activity that promotes healthy physical and socio-emotional development. A Second Chance, an organization working with children in the child welfare system, partnered with ASP after seeing the layers of support ASP gives on-site through Education of the child particularly in emotional regulation matched with family Engagement. The leaders expressed interest in learning more about how to use DEPEND to create a similar empathic and non-judgmental space at their particular location.
The DEPEND EBP is a creative way to deliver an excellent standard of evidence-based care, education, and mental health to children and their families. ASP has been able to sustain the DEPEND EBP through the generous support from grants, community organizations, donations from families, Board of Directors, and the Arch Street Presbyterian Church. Our most recent funders include the Eugene C. Bay Fund ($30,000), the Philadelphia Contributionship ($10,000), and the Arch Street Preschool Board of Directors ($5,760). The relevance of implementing and disseminating DEPEND comes from organizations such as A Second Chance which seek to achieve positive mental and educational outcomes for vulnerable families. Families are also invested in continuing the DEPEND EBP as it depicts a high quality Education system that achieves positive outcomes for children of all abilities and backgrounds. DEPEND can be readily available to early childhood mental health provides, educators, and funders through training workshops.
The DEPEND EBP can be adapted and duplicated easily in early childhood centers that are committed to the essential components of DEPEND. DEPEND’s success relies on financing and implementing its unique combination of effective evidence-based practices to engage and to support the varied/shared needs of its diverse group of children and families. From the onset, the Board of Directors made a financial investment in economic Diversity by establishing a Scholarship Fund and committing a substantial portion of tuition income to financial aid to increase educational access. Duplication would require a similar investment. ASP can provide DEPEND training and promote Engagement by reducing its cost so that early childhood centers can participate regardless of ability to pay. Our foundation as a Christian school lends itself naturally to Nurture with our central focus on love of each person and the world. This approach can be adapted for other religious or secular settings.
ASP measures its success through feedback from families who complete our program. 100% of children who finish our program are ready for kindergarten, and families praise our program for improving their children’s socio-emotional skills. Private schools seek our graduates for recruitment. Keystone STARS is an initiative of the Office of Child Development and Early Learning to improve, support, and recognize the continuous quality improvement efforts of early learning programs in Pennsylvania. The Keystone STARS Performance Standards provide the foundation for the program and comprise four levels: STAR 1, 2, 3, and 4. Each level builds on the previous level and utilizes research-based best practices to promote quality early learning environments and positive child outcomes. The standards address staff qualifications and professional development, the early learning program, partnerships with family and community, and leadership and management. Through the implementation of DEPEND, ASP has been awarded 2stars in two years.