Gianni 3
Ensuring children enter kindergarten ready to learn is a key strategy is closing the racial achievement gap in Dane County. Developmental gaps appear in the first 1,000 days of life.

 On May 2, United Way’s Born Learning Delegation 2.0 announced five key strategies in Dane County to ensure that every child in our community enters school with the skills necessary to learn and succeed. The plan takes on a holistic approach to early childhood education which layers these strategies in 13 neighborhoods (Leopold, Sun Prairie, Verona, Northside of Madison, Hammersley/Theresa Terrace, South & Southeast Madison (includes Owl Creek), Allied, Balsam/Russett, Darbo, Southwest Madison, Middleton/Cross Plains, Stoughton and Marshall) in Dane County. This community vision—The Born Learning Mobilization Plan—will:

  • Ensure parents are engaged, informed and supported in how to be their child’s first teacher.
  • Employ developmental screening to identify delays and help families find appropriate supports.
  • Create a community of practice to support practitioners, case managers, and resource centers who serve them.
  • Partner with healthcare professionals to reach families and have the critical conversations to help quickly connect them with support.
  • Employ these tactics in 13 neighborhoods within Dane County.

Over 40 community leaders, with input from parents, other caregivers, and childcare providers have created a plan that unifies the community in a common vision to ensure 80% of our community’s four-year-olds will be at age-expected development and ready to begin school by 2020.

“The brain is developing quickly during these critical first five years of life and sets the stage for life-long success,” says Joe Parisi, Dane County Executive and United Way of Dane County’s Born Learning Delegation Co-Chair. “National data tells us that the Achievement Gap starts early. We see gaps as early as 18 months in and they grow wider from there without intervention. In fact, some children are as much as two years behind their peers when they are age 5.”

In May 2013, the Delegation began its work examining the early childhood education environment in Dane County through which low-income children and families receive early education experiences.

“As part of our year of work, we’ve engaged a wide variety of stakeholders within the early childhood care and education system,” says Michael Morgan, United Way of Dane County’s Born Learning Delegation Co-Chair. “These include, but are not limited to: schools, faith communities, day care providers, healthcare providers, families, neighborhood centers, and behavioral health providers. Through site visits, research presentations, and feedback sessions, the delegation sought to fully understand the current system, identify best practices, and focus on key improvements.”Brain Sign

The vision and mobilization plan, being launched today, addresses the problem of school readiness in children under the age of five through these targeted ways:

1. Parents are engaged, informed and supported in how to be their child’s first teacher.
Work will continue to focus on supporting strategies with goals of engaging parents in how to be their child’s first teacher.

  • The plan will increase the reach of education experiences for children and their caregivers (such as Play and Learn) and home visitation programs (such as The Parent-Child Home Program) while continuing to expand the work to most effectively reach parents in locations where they already are as part of their daily routines (i.e. health care lobbies, libraries, faith communities)

2. Holistic family supports are focused on 13 neighborhoods in Dane County.
These include: Leopold, Sun Prairie, Verona, Northside of Madison, Hammersley/Theresa Terrace, South & Southeast Madison (includes Owl Creek), Allied, Balsam/Russett, Darbo, Southwest Madison, Middleton/Cross Plains, Stoughton and Marshall.

  • The plan will increase supported community spaces accessible for play and learning in these communities. Special emphasis will also be placed in these communities to ensure that supports through trusted local partners are available to families needing housing, food access, behavioral health treatment, and employment.
  • Two generation supports will be available, recognizing that to best help children we must also help parents and caregivers.

3. Children are screened for developmental delays and families are provided with appropriate supports for children who show delays.
This strategy focuses on increasing the number of developmental screenings to help increase parent education and refer children to resources if developmental delays are discovered.

  • The plan recommends a staff position to serve as a resource to the county to focus on outreach and continue data collection of the top physician recommended developmental screener called the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ). This position will identify, engage, and train nontraditional partners about ASQ and child development and the importance of screening.  These partners may include faith communities and neighborhood centers.
  • Screeners are also parent engagement tools, providing fun activities and benchmarks for parents to understand milestones and to access support if delays are identified.

4. A community of practice is created for practitioners, case managers, and resource centers for those serving families with children under five years old.

  • The plan will create a coordinated, structured system for practitioners where best practices can be shared, challenges can be discussed and will facilitate connections to programs and networks.

5. Healthcare professionals are knowledgeable of community supports and can easily link parents to such supports.

  • The plan will work with healthcare professionals, who are trusted advisors for families with young children, to provide them with knowledge, tools, and links to help them make efficient and quick referrals for a family’s needs.

In addition, the business community is stepping forward to take a stand for literacy and early reading in the community. Through the generous support of BMO Harris Bank, “Books for Babies” bags will be distributed through our local hospitals to parents of newborns in Dane County. These kits include several books for the child, tips on how to read and engage with your child in the first five years, and a list of additional resources and help available in Dane County.

“It’s clear that for the systems that provide early childhood experiences in our area to change and grow, the community must own a part of this plan,” says Leslie Ann Howard, President & CEO of United Way of Dane County. “We acknowledge the great partnerships of so many nonprofit, community, government, and neighborhood leaders who have come together to create this vision for our community’s youngest residents to ensure that each and every one of them can reach their full potential. Without this collaboration and the community’s support, we won’t be able to make this happen. Thank you.”


  • Developmental gaps can be seen within the first 1,000 days of life. Investing in quality early childhood experiences is critical for the future of Dane County.
  • There are approximately 30,000 children under the age of five in Dane County. Of those children, nearly 1 in 5 are living in poverty. In Madison it is 1 in 4.
  • Approximately 2,000 children living in poverty are being cared for by their families, friends or neighbors and are not cared for in formal child care or early education settings.
  • All children do not arrive at school for kindergarten ready to learn and ready for success at school.  In Dane County, disparities exist in children’s development and readiness for success in school. In 2013, only 60% of children in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) scored “ready for kindergarten” on the MMSD’s Kindergarten Screener.  This number is lowest for African American children (38%), Hispanic children (29%), Asian children (55%), and children of two or more races (67%).
  • Investing in education and development in child’s early years has profound returns.  A 40-year longitudinal study that followed infants into adulthood shows that investing $1 in high-quality early developmental practices saves $17 down the road as measured by a decrease in crime, a decrease in teen pregnancies and an increase in education and earning levels.

Our Community’s Agenda for Change


  • Students succeed academically and graduate from high school, regardless of race.
  • Children are cared for and have fun as they become prepared for school.


  • There is a decrease in family homelessness.
  • There is a reduction in violence toward individuals and families.


  • People’s health issues are identified and treated early.
  • Seniors and people with disabilities are able to stay in their homes.

 United Way engages our community mobilizes volunteers and strengthens local nonprofits to achieve measurable results and change lives.

About United Way of Dane County

United Way of Dane County is addressing the underlying causes of community issues through our community’s Agenda for Change—six goals focused on three priority areas of Education, Safety and Health that our community identified as most critical to changing lives and strengthening Dane County. Through strategic partnerships and collaborative work, we are achieving measurable results toward making our community better educated, safer, and healthier. United Way provides organizations and individuals the opportunity to give, advocate, and volunteer to change the human condition
in Dane County.