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SWFL nonprofit leader among group reshaping early childhood education through ‘The Future Project’

Guadalupe Center President and CEO Dawn Montecalvo was among a group of 39 thought leaders whose recently released “Florida’s Early Learning Roadmap” reimagines education for the state’s youngest learners.

The 20-page report was developed by The Future Project’s steering committee, which includes Montecalvo along with nonprofit executives, teachers, parents, early learning center directors and education advocates. The Future Project was managed through The Children’s Movement of Florida, a nonprofit that advocates for policies and investments that help each child in Florida thrive in their first five years. Montecalvo was the only Southwest Florida representative selected for the steering committee, which held listening sessions across Florida, including Immokalee, to gain input from parents and educators.

“Around the state, parents, educators and lawmakers all believe that a high-quality early childhood education offers children the best chance at a brighter future,” Montecalvo said. “The challenge is how we get there. It takes significant funding, coordination and a plan for excellence to ensure that every child – regardless of geographic location or household income – has an opportunity to thrive.”

The Children’s Movement of Florida, a nonpartisan organization, insists on a strong start for all Florida children by advocating for high-quality early learning opportunities, access to children’s health care and parent support programs. The Future Project is a coalition within that organization that is grounded in parent and educator voices.

“Never before have parents and educators been sought out for their perspectives, informed and engaged at scale in early learning advocacy; this is the key to our approach to solving persistent challenges in early learning,” says Madeleine Thakur, president and CEO of The Children’s Movement. “It’s been so energizing to work with stakeholders all across the state and find that there is broad agreement among parents, educators, policy leaders and business owners about the way forward.”

Recommendations outlined in the Early Learning Roadmap span four groups of goals:

  • Thriving Parents: Expand parent engagement strategies; increase opportunities for parents to co-create policies; and expand availability of services to support success of parents and caregivers.
  • Impactful Learning Experiences: Move toward a fully funded early learning system from birth to age 5; educate policymakers about the importance of early learning; and improve professional development for early learning teachers.
  • A Respected Workforce: Increase awareness and respect for the profession; strengthen career pathways; and improve compensation and benefits for early learning professionals.
  • A Coordinated, Resources and Data-Driven System: Ensure equitable access to early learning programs; establish mechanisms to share information and resources; and advance data-driven decision making.

“Research clearly shows that a high-quality early childhood education provides a strong foundation for academic, social, emotional and behavioral growth,” Montecalvo said. “We believe our nationally accredited Early Childhood Education Program at Guadalupe Center can serve as a model for school districts and private providers across Florida, but the next step is aligning policies and identifying funding sources to carry out this plan.”

The Future Project is currently developing priorities for the 2024 legislative session. Florida’s Early Learning Roadmap is available online at ChildrensMovementFlorida.org/Future-Project.

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