In an effort to stave off academic losses by reaching children during their earliest years, D.C. officials and philanthropists have teamed up to construct a $12 million facility in Ward 7 that will provide daylong year-round early childhood education.

The facility is expected to serve 171 infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

“If I were in a position to have fetuses in the program, I would do that,” D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said March 15 during a groundbreaking ceremony for a new Educare facility that is set to be built just next to the Neval Thomas Elementary School in the 600 block of Anacostia Ave. N.E.

The mayor – joined by an array of city and federal government officials and leaders in philanthropy and the sphere of early childhood education – said the achievement gap that besets public education must be dealt with before children even reach school.

“If we wait until kindergarten, first, second grade, for many of our children, the battle is already lost,” Mayor Gray said.

“We have to win the battle early in order to win the war,” he continued, adding that if investments are not made in early childhood education, society will pay for it later on in the area of special education and juvenile justice for children who didn’t get a good academic start early on in life.

Though its construction is being funded separately with private dollars, the building of the Educare facility is expected to play a critical role in the D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative, one of 20 such U.S. Department of Education-funded initiatives across the country meant to replicate famed charter school educator Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, which provides a comprehensive array of services to children and families.

Chavez Public Charter Schools recently won a $500,000 federal planning grant to help launch the D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative.

D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton said the planned Educare facility of D.C. – just one of several Educare facilities expected to open throughout the nation in the next year or so – will be looked at by Congress and others as a model for early childhood education.

“Early learning is not a cliché,” Holmes Norton said. “It is the life of these children. It is the life we owe them upon entrance to the world.”

Educare is a national network of full-day, year-round schools whose programs are funded mostly with public money. The first Educare appeared roughly a decade ago in Chicago and others have since been constructed in 12 U.S. cities that range from Miami to Seattle.

Several foundations – including the Buffett Early Childhood Fund – provide money to local partnerships for their capital campaigns.

An ongoing evaluation of Educare being conducted at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has shown that the longer a child spends in Educare, the better the child’s overall readiness for school.

Jamaal Abdul-Alim

Special to the AFRO