Somerville, Mass., has spent years building a strong foundation for its early education and care programs.
Now, a case study – One Somerville, Every Child — explores how Somerville has used a three-year (2019-2022), $1 million grant from the Commonwealth Children’s Fund to make vital progress that will support young children and families – and set an example other cities can learn from.
This work began in 2018 when representatives of the City of Somerville and the Somerville Public Schools were introduced to team members from the Commonwealth Children’s Fund – thanks to the Harvard Education Redesign Lab’s By All Means Initiative.”
Somerville officials “shared plans and dreams they had for expanding their early childhood services, and the CCF team shared their plans to start investing in communities piloting innovations in early childhood systems,” the case study says.
Somerville had three goals it sought to achieve:
- expand and institutionalize its early childhood programs
- expand its existing preschool initiatives, and
- bridge the gaps between children’s birth and when they start school
Another program that was central in the grant-funded work was “Somerville’s light-touch, universal home visiting program, SomerBaby,” a first point of connection “to early childhood services and supports for many families.”
Unfortunately, in year one of the grant the pandemic hit, forcing city officials to focus on emergencies — such as helping struggling families buy diapers — so there was less time for strategic planning and capacity building. And plans to grow the city’s mixed-delivery, early childhood system shifted to efforts to keep providers in business.
The silver lining? The pandemic compelled the entire country to pay attention to child care, and Somerville was well prepared to use federal Covid relief funds to stabilize its programs for young children.
Somerville also had other advantages, including:
- aligned leadership, including mayors and superintendents who supported early education and care (a new mayor and a new superintendent replaced their predecessors during the grant period)
- a strong foundation of pre-existing relationships among city departments that were all represented on Somerville’s Children’s Cabinet, which was created with the support of the Education Redesign Lab
- braided and flexible funding: in addition to the grant from the Commonwealth Children’s Fund, Somerville also had two state-funded early childhood grants, and
- a formal strategic planning process
Armed with a vision and a commitment to hard work, Somerville used the Children’s Fund grant to create:
- the First Five Somerville Steering Committee, a cross-sector committee of city departments that focuses on young children
- the Somerville Hub Connect, a website that helps families find services and builds on the city’s pre-K-12 website
- a new position, the Coordinator of Prenatal to School Entry Partnership Alignment and Grant Development, who will work across city departments and seek additional grant funding
- a city-based financial assistance program to help parents pay for child care, funding that would be available to parents who need help but earn too much to qualify for state subsidies, and
- an FY ’23 city budget that “included positions and funding to continue supporting and growing early childhood initiatives”
As the case study explains, one key lesson that Somerville learned is:
“Work towards both the ideal and the achievable: While it will take time to achieve the end goals, and the team will need to be realistic about what they can achieve, it is important to keep the ideal vision of each goal in mind so if there is an opportunity to make progress toward the ideal, the team is positioned to leverage it.”