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.

November 11, 2014

Today, hundreds of “Books for Babies” bags are being delivered to Meriter – UnityPoint Health and St. Mary’s Hospital birthing centers. The goal: Build a stronger community by providing baby’s first book and parent resources to every baby born in Dane County over the next year and beyond.

Through the generous support of BMO Harris Bank, these kits include a book for the child, tips for parents on how to read and engage with children in their first five years, and a list of Dane County resources and other help available to young families in our community. “At BMO Harris Bank, we believe in the importance of education,” said Doug Nelson, Regional President, BMO Harris Bank. “A lifetime of learning really does begin at birth and parents have a very important role as their child’s first teacher.”

“7,000 babies are born in Dane County every year,” Michael Morgan, United Way Born Learning volunteer chair, said. “Of those, 1,000 are born in to poverty. Of the 30,000 children under the age of 5 in Dane County, about 40% aren’t ready when they start kindergarten. Starting early is key, because achievement gaps are evident as early as 18 months. Some children are a full two years behind by their fifth birthday. We need to impact a child’s developing brain before the age of 3.”

“The most significant way we can influence our community’s future is to invest in parenting,” Leslie Ann Howard, President and CEO of United Way, said. “We want to make sure every child in our community is taken care of, is loved and hugged, and is receiving the support they need so they grow up in a supportive setting and are ready to start kindergarten.”

In May, United Way announced five key Born Learning strategies to ensure that every child in our community enters school with the skills necessary to learn and succeed. Books for Babies bags support the first strategy to “ensure parents are engaged, informed and supported in how to be their child’s first teacher” and fourth strategy to “partner with healthcare professionals to reach families and have the critical conversations to help get quickly connected with support.”

“We are very excited to partner with the Books for Babies initiative,” Dr. Ronald Grant, pediatric hospitalist at Meriter Hospital said. “We know how important it is for babies to be held and read to, but not every family has the resources to have books in their home. This program will give them those resources and be very beneficial to helping to support our community’s children starting in infancy.”

“Our healthcare professionals want to not only provide excellent health outcomes, but offer new families resources to get them off to the best start,” Robbie Sonnentag, St. Mary’s Hospital Administrative Director of Women and Children Services said. “Providing the Books for Babies bags is an opportunity to collaborate and connect with local partners like United Way so that all of our community’s children get a strong start.”

If you’d like to support Books for Babies bags, you can give online at www.unitedwaydanecounty.org or by calling United Way 2-1-1. Each bag is $5, and funding for 2,800 additional baby bags would allow us to reach every newborn through the end of 2015.


  • Developmental gaps can be seen within the first 1,000 days of life. Investing in reading and language development for children under age 3 is critical to reducing the community’s achievement gap.
  • 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.

About 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.