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Allegan County United Way launches Early Learning Initiative

As part of its continued effort to support early learning in Allegan County, Allegan County United Way is officially launching the Early Learning Initiative (ELI), with the support of community partners and collaborators. Together, United, we can address the educational challenges facing our county.

There are currently 7,161 children ages 0-4 in Allegan County. 61% of these children do not attend a licensed early childhood education program before kindergarten. Since children who start behind in school tend to stay behind, there are many children who are not reaching proficiency levels at the third and eighth grades. In Allegan County, 45% of third graders are not proficient in English Language Arts (including reading skills), and that number rises to 59% who aren’t proficient by eighth grade. In addition, economically disadvantaged students are approximately half as likely to be on track with reading skills as their peers by eighth grade.

United Way’s Early Learning Initiative supports future students by providing programs and working with partners to increase opportunities for early education and access to resources for young children and their families. Several programs and efforts are already underway to support early learning in Allegan County.

Imagination Library, sponsored by Gun Lake Casino, provides high quality, age-appropriate books delivered monthly to the homes of families with children from birth to five years old. If a participant is registered at birth, he or she will receive more than 50 books before Kindergarten. In the quarter prior to Gun Lake Casino’s support, the average number of new applications to United Way’s Imagination Library was 77 per month. In the quarter after Gun Lake stepped up to sponsor the program, the average monthly new applications jumped to 109. There are approximately 3,000 participants in the Imagination Library program, including more than 50% of all kids heading to Allegan area schools, and 40% of all eligible kids in the county. To learn more about the Imagination Library program, go to www.acuw.org/imagination-library.

The Early Learning Initiative also includes funding for early childhood partner programs, providing in-school reading volunteers and advocacy at the state and federal levels. As part of the initiative, United Way is also planning to expand the Little Free Libraries pilot program to become county-wide by the spring of 2019. The little free libraries are produced by United Way, with the help of volunteers, and in partnership with local schools and businesses. The libraries create access points to reading materials in key locations all around Allegan County.

United Way is working with partners such as AAESA, Gun Lake Casino, Wayland Union Schools and others to create bold goals and solutions for the new Early Learning Initiative. United Way will continue to share updates and more details about the initiative in the coming months.

Photo: From left to right: Susan Henderson, Associate Director of Live United Engagement, Allegan County United Way; Norman Taylor, Superintendent, Wayland Union Schools; Amanda Telgenhof, Director of Live United Engagement, Allegan County United Way; Teresa Fulk, Director of Instruction, Wayland Union Schools; Patrick Moran, President, Allegan County United Way; Carter Pavey, Assistant General Manager, Gun Lake Casino and Jeffrey Sorensen, Community Relations Coordinator, Gun Lake Casino.