Get Ready Guilford: New partnership with The Duke Endowment launches in 2018

The opportunity. Guilford County, in partnership with The Duke Endowment, has an exciting opportunity to build a stronger and more connected system of care for our community’s youngest children and their families.

Today, no such robust system exists. During the most critical years of brain development — prenatally through age three — families spend significant time and resources navigating a disconnected system of care. Some families are able to get needed resources for their children, while others are unable to do so for a variety of reasons.

Guilford is charting a new vision. It’s one in which each pregnant woman will receive high-quality, timely prenatal care. Families will be connected to additional supports tailored to their unique needs within medical homes. The goal is that families of infants, toddlers and preschoolers will get what they need, when they need it, so every child enters school developmentally on-track and ready to succeed.

Why is building an early system of care important? Experiences during the infant, toddler and preschool years build the foundation for a child’s future learning; decades of research find those who have enriched experiences are more likely to succeed in school and in life.

Data shows that almost 50% of Guilford County children enter Kindergarten behind expected developmental standards. Once behind, it’s difficult and more expensive to help them catch up. Recognizing the short-and long-term economic consequences, local business and foundation leaders joined together to explore what it would take to build a system that produces better outcomes for young children and their families.

Why Guilford? In 2014, in partnership with 60+ agencies and organizations, Guilford County leaders launched Ready for School, Ready for Life. The initiative’s charge is to build a more responsive, innovative, and connected early childhood system. The goal is population level change so that children enter Kindergarten ready for what’s ahead.

For 18 months, hundreds of Guilford County residents contributed to an early childhood community vision grounded in local data and focused on engaging families with young children. Teams explored problems within the current system, identified root causes, and developed strategies to address them.

The Duke Endowment, which has long-standing partnerships with key early childhood programs delivered within Guilford, took an even stronger interest in Ready/Ready’s system-building approach in 2016. The Endowment’s staff participated in the vision building work from the beginning, and started making strategic investments in this work in mid-2017.

The goal. There are five outcome areas for the work: (1) Planned and well-timed pregnancies; (2) Healthy births; (3) On-track development at 18 and 36 months; (4) School readiness by kindergarten; and (5) School success by third grade. Child well-being will be measured using sixteen indicators that are described in the Get Ready Guilford Theory of Change (PDF).

Ready/Ready and The Duke Endowment have co-developed a shared theory of change to guide this work. We believe that we can measurably improve outcomes for both individual families and across Guilford’s population when the following five conditions exist:

  • All families are offered assessments to identify their needs
  • The right resources are available in the community
  • Families get connected to those resources at the right time, based on their needs and with the right information shared
  • Our community is informed about healthy development
  • We sustain the new system.

Pilot activities to launch in early 2018. Several pilot activities will launch in early 2018 to support this theory of change. The pilots leverage existing programs and expand the reach and integration of some key programs to reach more families. The new system will:

  • Identify and screen every pregnant woman in Guilford County as early as possible in pregnancy so she can be offered the resources and services she needs, including intensive home visiting programs (Outcome area: Healthy births)
  • Ensure that all families receive a home visit within three weeks of birth by a nurse who will provide needed support to the new mother, baby and family, as well as connection to resources. (Outcome area: On-track development at 18 and 36 months)
  • Additional child development experts work with all families at well-child visits in pediatric practices that serve a large proportion of Medicaid-eligible families (Outcome area: On-track development at 18 and 36 months)
  • Home visits offered to all families of toddlers (15-18 months old) and preschoolers (36 months) by parent educators to connect with needed resources (Outcome area: On-track development at 18 and 36 months)
  • Help Guilford County programs and services use data to continuously improve their effectiveness, make decisions, and coordinate their care for families (Intended outcomes: ALL)

The system will be supported by continued engagement with families to evaluate success and change course as needed. A rigorous evaluation process has been developed with an external evaluator to be hired in early 2018. A feasibility study for a new data infrastructure designed to help measure progress, manage referrals, and coordinate care for families will be completed by Duke University by February 2018. Our public will-building efforts to drive demand for better early childhood outcomes will intensify, and sustainability planning to maximize private investments is underway. Selected programs and supports will also be scaled to meet community need.

What’s next? Work groups of local and national experts are hard at work to develop the pilots, learn what’s effective and what needs to shift, and to begin pilot implementation. Stay tuned for updates and send any questions you have to our team at


New Report on Raising Family Voice to Guide Early Childhood Policy

A new report by the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) highlights how communities across the state, including Guilford County’s work through Ready for School, Ready for Life, are leveraging family voice to build a more responsive, innovative and effective early childhood system.

 Not About Me, Without Me, lifts up the voices of more than 2,000 North Carolina families who shared what works and doesn’t work in their early childhood systems. According to NCECF, “This meta-analysis…is intended to educate policymakers and state and community leaders about parents’ needs, constraints, options, and preferences as they strive to support their children’s success.”

In 2015, Ready for School, Ready for Life conducted family meetings with 240+ families representing the diversity of Guilford County. We found that all families have big dreams for their children, and all families face barriers to achieving those dreams. The data we gathered from those meetings were used by NCECF to understand the wants and needs of families in our community, and are synthesized in the report to paint a more comprehensive picture of what helps and hinders families in North Carolina as they support their young children’s healthy development.

The report includes themes and quotes from families around three key areas: good health and on-track development; supported and supportive families and communities; and high-quality education from birth through third grade, which all help ensure that children will be reading on grade level by the end of third grade. The report also includes factors that families identified as important for elected officials, teachers, and community leaders to know, providing guidance for policymaking.

For more information about the report, visit the NCECF website.

To download the full report, click here.

Guilford County Featured in Reading Across the State 2017

The Early Literacy Design Team was featured in Reading Across the State 2017, on the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction website. This series highlights collaborative efforts to promote literacy for North Carolina Students, with the goal of grade-level reading proficiency for all children by the end of third grade. Read the full article below.

Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready/Ready), a Guilford County initiative, is a collective leadership initiative focused on building an innovative, responsive early childhood system that meets the needs of today’s families. The initiative, led by local foundations and community leaders, is committed to ensuring that every child in Guilford County enters kindergarten ready for school and life success.

Based on a year of data gathering, community input and collective impact work, Ready/Ready is focused on 10 priorities for system change. One priority is to leverage and expand early literacy resources so more children are reading on grade level by third grade.

Last year, nearly half of entering kindergartners in Guilford County started school below widely held expectations for their age when it comes to language and communication development. This puts the youngest students at a significant disadvantage even before their formal K-12 education begins, said Mary Herbenick, executive director of Ready/Ready.

To address this need, Ready/Ready convened an early literacy design team consisting of 25 individuals from 20 organizations across the county. The team worked together for seven months to develop powerful strategies to drive better outcomes.

They started by talking with families. Team members conducted a total of 50 interviews to learn more about what’s working and not working when it comes to helping children gain needed language/communication skills starting from birth through age five. The team gathered more data from early literacy programs and started to build strategies

“One of our commitments is to engage families in every part of the work, including the design of programs,” Herbenick said. “We’ve made significant shifts based on family feedback and have stopped pursuing strategies when parents tell us that they’re off course.”

The resulting strategic plan is designed to help parents build skills and confidence, to engage the whole community in active reading practices, and more.

One of the main lessons they have learned from working with families is that life with young children can be hectic, so families really want the initiative’s efforts to be focused in places they already visit, such as pediatrician offices, grocery stores, in waiting rooms, and more.

Herbenick says one rewarding aspect of the work is seeing community partners develop stronger relationships and getting creative about how to better serve families and children.

“Guilford has the talent, the will and the ability to tackle difficult problems as long as we go at it together,” said Herbenick. “Together is probably the most important word in our vocabulary.”

To learn more about Ready for School, Ready for Life, visit

Ready for School, Ready for Life is part of the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, representing 312 community coalitions nationwide. The campaign recognizes that achieving grade-level reading takes engaged communities that are mobilized to remove barriers, expand opportunities and assist parents to be committed to the success of their children. The North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation serves as the state lead organization for the campaign, leading 13 rural and urban community collaboratives in the state vested in children’s success to read at grade-level by the end of third grade.

See the original article – and more about what is going on across the state – at the NC Department of Public Instruction website.

New Resources from the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation: What Works for Third Grade Reading

The North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) has released a groundbreaking new resource for the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Initiative: What Works for Third Grade ReadingThis collection of working papers addresses whole-child, birth-to-age-eight factors that move the needle on children’s reading proficiency at third grade and offers research-based policy, practice and program options that can make progress on those factors. Specifically, the working papers address 12 of the North Carolina Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Initiative’s Measures of Success. There are four working papers in each of three Pathways goals areas:
  • Health and Development on Track, Beginning at Birth
  • Supported and Supportive Families and Communities
  • High Quality Birth-through-age-Eight Learning Environments with Regular Attendance

Each working paper details why the Pathways measure matters for third-grade reading, outlines how it is connected to the other Pathways Measures of Success, defines relevant terms and offers national research-based options that can impact the measure, including polices (federal, state legislative, state departmental, and local), practices (protocols to implement policies, some which might be driving good outcomes, and some which might be obstacles to improving outcomes), and programs and capacities (provider capacity, parent capacity, public understanding and will-building, and array of quality programs to move the measures). All sources are cited.

The working papers will be used as resources for the Pathways Design Teams as they work to create policy, practice and capacity-building agendas in the prioritized areas of work. The papers are also a resource for states and communities to:
  • Learn the research and evidence base around what works in key areas that impact third grade reading
  • Organize collaborative work around measures that impact third grade reading proficiency and consider how those measures—and therefore the strategies to address them—are interconnected
  • Understand a variety of policy, practice, program and capacity-building options that have been used in communities across the country to improve outcomes for young children and families

While these papers are still a work in progress, NCECF is eager to share this information and is releasing them now in draft form.

You can find the papers online at: Follow #bthru8pathways on Twitter to learn more and receive updates.

What Works for Third Grade Reading was produced by the Institute for Child Success and the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, in collaboration with BEST NC, to support the work of the NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading (Pathways) initiative. The papers were authored by Janice M. Gruendel, Ph.D., Institute for Child Success; Mandy Ableidinger, North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation; and Keller Anne Ruble, Institute for Child Success.

Active Reading: What and How to Read with Infants, Toddlers & Preschoolers

Empowering families, child care professionals, and the community to improve early literacy skills with our youngest children is the right thing to do and a smart investment. Everyone has a role to play!

Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Learn about Active Reading  (link) and use it whenever you read (or interact) with young children. For an overview, you can watch this 3-minute video in English (link) or in Spanish (link) about the A, B, Cs of Active Reading. (A huge thanks to our partners at READ Charlotte, who developed the Active Reading videos/materials and encouraged us to share them widely so our community members could benefit.)
  • Check out other resources available to parents and caregivers (click on “For Families” at the top of the page). Share them!
  • Spread the word! Babies recognize their mother’s voice at birth! Talking and singing starting a birth increases parent/child bonding and helps babies’ brains develop in a healthy way.
  • Give the gift of reading to young children. The Greensboro Public Library curated a “best books” list for each stage of development. Use this list to build the home libraries of children in our community and share Active Reading tips and tools to make the most of reading time together. (We’re also creating a way for community members to donate books so that every newborn in Guilford County receives one. Stay tuned!)

For Infants (Birth to 6 Months Old)

  • Where is My Baby? (Authors: Harriet Ziefert and Simms Taback)
  • Spot’s First Walk (Author: Eric Hill)
  • Maisy’s First Numbers 123 (Author: Lucy Cousins)
  • Move It! (ISBN 9781454923114)
  • Red Apple, Green Pear: A Book of Colors (Scholastic Inc.)
  • Goodnight Moon (Author: Margaret Wise Brown)

For Infants/Toddlers (Up to 12 Months Old)

  • My Car  (Author: Byron Barton)
  • This Little Chick (Author: John Lawrence)
  • Sylvia Long’s Mother Goose: Four Classic Board Books (4 books)
  • Dear Zoo (Author: Rod Campbell)
  • Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed (Author: Eileen Christelow)
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Author: Eric Carle)
  • The Big Red Barn (Author: Margaret Wise Brown)
  • Please, Puppy, Please (Author: Spike Lee)

For Toddlers (18 Months Old)

  • Feast for 10 (Author: Cathryn Falwell)
  • The Busy Little Squirrel (Author: Nancy Tafuri)
  • Freight Train (Author: Donald Crews)
  • Growing Vegetable Soup (Author: Lois Ehlert)
  • Blue Hat, Green Hat (Author: Sandra Boynton)
  • Leo Can Swim (Author: Anna McQuinn)
  • Book! (Author: Kristin George)
  • The Everything Book (Author: Denise Fleming)

For Older Toddlers (24 Months Old)

  • Lola Loves Stories (Author: Anna McQuinn)
  • The Three Bears (Author: Byron Barton)
  • The Snowy Day (Author: Ezra Jack Keats)
  • Dinosaur Zoom (Author: Penny Dale)
  • Kite Flying (Author: Grace Lin)
  • Jazz Baby (Author: Lisa Wheeler)
  • Shhhhhhh! Everybody’s Sleeping (Author: Julie Markes)
  • Maisy Goes to Preschool (Author: Lucy Cousins)

For Preschoolers (3 Years Old)

  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (Author: Laura Numeroff)
  • Caps for Sale (Author: Esphyr Slobodkina, full text, not board book)
  • The Gingerbread Man (Author: Eric Kimmel)
  • If You Were a Penguin (Author: Wendell Minor)
  • I Spy Under the Sea (and other “I Spy” books by author Edward Gibbs)
  • The Little Red Hen (Author: Byron Barton)
  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Author: Bill Martin)
  • Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (Author: Mo Willems)
  • Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site (Author: Sherri Rinker)
  • I Got the Rhythm (Author: Connie Scofield-Morrison)

For Older Preschoolers (4 Years Old)

  • Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten (Author: Joseph Slate)
  • Frog and Toad Are Friends (Author: Arnold Lobel)
  • Three Billy Goats Gruff (Author: Janet Stevens)
  • Up, Down, and Around (Author: Katherine Ayres)
  • Duck on a Bike (Author: David Shannon)
  • Dinosaur Pirates (Author: Penny Dale)
  • Bear Snores On (Author: Karma Wilson)
  • The Feel Good Book (Author: Todd Parr)
  • Excellent Ed (Author: Stacy McAnulty)

Stay tuned for more ways that you can help ensure that all Guilford County children enter kindergarten on track and ready for what’s ahead.

Early Literacy Design Team Launches Strategic Plan

Congratulations to the Guilford County team that recently developed the first comprehensive Early Literacy Strategic Plan designed specifically to meet the needs of families with children from birth through age five. The team consists of 25 professionals from 20 agencies/organizations who worked together for six months to meet an ambitious goal: Design a set of powerful strategies to solve the problem that too many children arrive in Kindergarten without the language/communication skills needed to succeed in school.

To develop the plan, the team:

  • Interviewed 50+ families with infants, toddlers and preschoolers to learn about perceptions of language/communication development, community resources they use, and what’s working/not working to prepare children;
  • Gathered additional data from early literacy programs and service providers about key success factors and barriers;
  • Analyzed qualitative/quantitative data to build a pathway that aligns with North Carolina standards;
  • Identified root causes for why too many children are not on track; and
  • Developed powerful strategies to address those root causes.

The plan focuses on improving upon six indicators in Guilford County:

  • The % of families using effective Active Reading strategies daily with children;
  • The % of families reporting confidence in their ability to prepare children for literacy success;
  • The % of literacy programs effectively building parents’ skills to promote literacy at home;
  • The % of children engaged in quality, culturally competent early literacy programming;
  • The % of formal childcare settings (and informal childcare settings, such as care by a relative) with high-quality, culturally competent literacy programming aligned with North Carolina standards; and
  • The % of adults who see their role in supporting early literacy.

Implementation of the plan is already starting. New pilot programs are being launched. Agencies are aligning their own programs to include Active Reading practices. A community campaign around Active Reading is under development. A team led by Superintendent Contreras is building upon this work, which will be part of the Guilford County Schools’ 2018-2022 Strategic Plan.

Watch for more details as the work continues in Guilford County!

Anyone Who Cares for Children Can Use North Carolina Foundations for Early Learning and Development


Our Blog Guest for March is Dr. Catherine Scott-Little, Professor in the Human Development and Family Studies Department, UNC-Greensboro. As a nationally recognized expert on early learning standards, Dr. Scott Little has served as an advisor in numerous states on state-level standards. She is the co-author of Conceptualization of Readiness and the content of Early Learning Standards and Early Mathematics Standards in the United States: The Quest for Alignment. In North Carolina, Dr. Scott-Little was one of the co-authors of North Carolina Foundations for Early Learning and Development (Foundations). She is also a member of the Ready for School, Ready for Life Early Literacy Design Team.


What is North Carolina Foundations for Early Learning and Development?

Catherine Scott-Little: Foundations, which is also called NC FELDS, is a document that outlines what we want children to know and be able to do, starting at birth until they enter kindergarten. It’s the culmination of decades of research in the child development field which gives us a framework for what we want every child to have the opportunity to learn during the earliest years. It also gives early childhood educators, policymakers, families and others a path for how to help children progress during this short period of time that creates the foundation for all future learning.

In 2013, a group of diverse stakeholders in North Carolina came together to answer the question: “what should young children know and be able to do to be successful?” Foundations answers that question at each stage of development. It’s been adopted by the state of North Carolina and endorsed by all state-level early childhood agencies.


How is Foundations used today?

Catherine Scott-Little: Foundations is used as a guide for the types of learning experiences children should have before kindergarten. Teachers, caregivers, family members, and anyone else who cares for children can see what children should be learning and how to help them learn specific skills at each age between birth and kindergarten entry. Educators are using the document to plan what they are doing with children and guide them as they assess children’s progress. They are also using NC FELDS to partner with families to individualize instruction for children.


What is included in Foundations?

Foundations includes Goals and Developmental Indicators that describe what children should know and be able to do at each of five age levels (Infants, Younger Toddlers, Older Toddlers, Younger Preschoolers and Older Preschoolers). The Goals are organized in the five domains of development. Here are the five domains and questions about children the domains address:

  1. Approaches to Play & Learning: To what extent do kids show curiosity, enthusiasm, and persistence toward learning tasks?
  2. Emotional & Social Development: Do children interact well with others and communicate their feelings in appropriate ways?
  3. Health & Physical Development: Are children growing and developing properly?
  4. Language Development & Communication: How are children’s listening, speaking, and print awareness skills developing?
  5. Cognitive Development: How much do children understand about the world around them?

 In addition, NC FELDS contains strategies and other useful information included to support adults in knowing what to do to promote children’s learning and development.

Click here to see a sample page: NC_foundations


How would you like to see NC FELDS used?

Catherine Scott-Little: Foundations is designed to help the whole community—families, direct service providers, early childhood educators, and others—support children and families. It is our collective vision for what we want children to have the opportunity to learn. Anyone whose work touches a child would benefit from using NC FELDS.

For child development students and teachers, it’s used as a textbook and  in professional development to learn about child development and intentional teaching. The goal is for every teacher working with children to use this document as a starting point for planning and evaluating her/his teaching. Caregivers should use NC FELDS to plan their curriculum, communicate with others who work with a child, guide how they assess children, and learn about child development.

Physicians and healthcare providers can talk to parents about NC FELDS and the importance of working with their child’s educators to support development in the domains that are described. Service providers could use this document as a resource to share with families. Politicians and policy makers should use Foundations as a guide to ensure we are implementing policies and providing resources that support children’s development and learning so children make progress on the Goals included in Foundations. 


If our readers want to access NC FELDS, how would they get a copy?

Catherine Scott-Little: There are several resources available. NC Foundations for Early Learning and Education is free to the public and available online here and there are family-friendly resources available in English and Spanish here.  



Investing in Early Childhood: Economist Rob Grunewald

On February 7, 2017 NC State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues hosted a forum focused on the Economics of Early Childhood Investment. Economist Rob Grunewald spoke on the growing body of evidence that investing in the youngest children is critical to our economic vitality in the future and benefits everyone in society. To see more videos from the conference, go to

News & Research Roundup: Early Care and Education