Houston-based early childhood education agency invests in kids early on
When the Collab-Lab mobile unit parks outside a preschool in Houston, parents and caregivers trust it’s filled with activities to support their child’s learning.
They’ll walk over to the bright blue bus to speak with the Collab-Lab team, staffed with teachers trained by Collaborative for Children (CC), a Houston not-for-profit helping transform early-childhood education in the region.
They’ll borrow educational toys to assist their child’s cognitive and skills development. They’ll take home tips for engaging with their little one, helping prepare them for kindergarten and the years of education ahead.
CC’s objective, through initiatives like the Collab-Lab, is to support children as early as possible in their education. Why? Because doing so makes the most sense, says Melanie Johnson, CC’s President and CEO, who holds a doctorate in education.
“We want to revise the system,” Dr. Johnson explains. “As opposed to putting all of our high-quality teachers at the university level, as well as all of our emphasis and funding, we want to put those things at the beginning, in early childhood, when the brain is developing 90% of its neural synapses.”
In Texas, early childcare teachers are required to complete only 24 hours of training. Research confirmed for CC that is not enough. In response, CC’s Centers of Excellence program provides professional development for child-care providers, many of whom operate in areas of the city where there’s a high likelihood children are living in poverty.
CC trains childcare staff in a proprietary curriculum called “I Wonder!” The rigorous, research-informed curriculum includes means to develop children’s functional and cognitive skills and uses STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) to engage the young ones in hands-on learning.
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“We’re not just preparing them for kindergarten, but we’re preparing them for 21st -century careers,” Dr. Johnson adds.
As a non-profit, CC relies on external funding. Centers of Excellence launched in 2020, thanks to contributions from the community. Enbridge, which has enjoyed a long-term relationship with CC, has supported the program with two Fueling Futures grants valued at $10,000 each—one in 2021, and one in 2022.
CC’s commitment to building the potential of children fits with our mandate to support education in the areas where we live, work, and operate. We see how this program will benefit kids today, and the community in years to come.
CC continues to track outcomes and plans to ask legislators for funding to sustain and expand the program.
Paraphrasing Stephen Covey, an American educator and author of the famous leadership book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Johnson adds that effective education must “begin with the end in mind.”
“We put an emphasis on early childhood education in such a way that the entire community will be elevated,” Dr. Johnson says.
She asks, provocatively: “How do you want the story to end?”