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Securing the Start: Strengthening Early Childhood Education from Aspen to Parachute

Aspen Community Foundation (ACF) is achieving remarkable success through its Cradle to Career Initiative, a community wide effort to level the playing field for children and young people from diverse backgrounds and households. ACF’s Cradle to Career Initiative (CCI) has implemented the strategy of Collective Impact to strengthen the ecosystem for youth and family success. More than 100 nonprofits, educators, business and community leaders, government officials, and philanthropists are working together to help our children thrive.

The Lay of the Land

Profound achievement gaps exist between our region’s low-income children and their more affluent peers. ACF believes that improving youth outcomes – from birth through career readiness – will substantially benefit everyone’s quality of life.


CCI addresses four goals in its continuum of building youth success: (1) Ensuring children are ready for kindergarten; (2) Helping students succeed academically; (3) Putting students on a path to graduate high school with a postsecondary plan for college and career; and (4) Developing social and life assets for our youth’s success and happiness.

Early Childhood Education

In the early childhood education arena, CCI’s Ready for Kindergarten team meets regularly, striving to create a comprehensive system of family support, child nurturing and equitable access to preschool. When young children are exposed to educational programming, they learn social and emotional skills at the time that their brains are the most malleable. This opens an opportunity for decades of success.

Believing that early education is one of the best investments a society can make, the CCI partners are investing their time and talent as well as leveraging funds to make preschool and childcare more accessible to all families with children from ages 0-5. Since 2014, there has been an increase in overall capacity of licensed care by 321 daily spaces between Aspen and Parachute. 113 of those were added between Carbondale and Basalt.

Research confirms that 90% of brain development occurs before age five, so educating and caring for children to set them up for success in kindergarten and later life in critically important. According to a September 2017 report by the University of Denver on the economic benefits of early care and education, the intervention of high-quality early care and education leads to a number of positive outcomes, such as increased school readiness and higher academic achievements in the short-term, to long-term effects including higher wages and lower rates of arrests.

Strategies in place

  • Expanding the capacity of existing early childhood education programs to meet the needs of nearly 5,000 children aged 0-5 in the region;
  • Developing a professional workforce of early childhood educators. ACF is funding scholarships to help individuals achieve an Early Childhood Education (ECE) certificate or associate’s degree;
  • Increasing the amount of time our most vulnerable three- and four-year-old children are in quality preschool;
  • Analyzing the system of family and child supports from birth through kindergarten and collaborating with CCI partners to improve policies and practices;
  • Building public understanding on the importance of early childhood education and quality care

Good as Gold

Another important achievement has been the adoption by all four school districts in the Aspen to Parachute region of Teaching Strategies Gold, or TS Gold, as a way of assessing if children are ready for kindergarten. TS GOLD assesses ongoing development and learning of children from birth through kindergarten in the areas of Social/Emotional, Physical, Cognitive, Language, Mathematics. The district-wide adoption of this tool will create much-needed baseline for kindergarten readiness. Securing the start for our region’s youth puts them on equal footing with their peers on a path of academic and personal success. For more information on the Cradle to Career Initiative, or to get involved, click here.


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