United Way Born Learning Academy:

A History

   Foundation and Development

In 2009, United Way of Greater Cincinnati Success By 6 worked with Kenton County Schools and Early Childhood Faculty Members at Northern Kentucky University to develop the United Way Born Learning Academy.   The United Way Born Learning Academy is a school-based workshop series that teaches parents and caregivers of children from prenatal to five years of age how to turn everyday moments into learning opportunities. The workshop series aims to give these children the tools they need to achieve success when enrolling in school and beyond.  The series was developed based on the Born Learning Public Engagement Campaign--a nationwide, research-based public awareness and engagement campaign of United Way Worldwide, the Ad Council and Civitas designed to help parents, caregivers and communities rally around the importance of quality early learning opportunities for young children.

The United Way Born Learning Academy came to fruition in the 2009-2010 school year after Kenton County Superintendent Tim Hanner was inspired by the Harlem Children Zone  "Baby College", which strives to surround children with support as early as possible. Mr. Hanner's vision was to ensure that  children in his community  had the best tools available so they would be ready to learn when they made it to school.   His goal was to reach out to Kenton County’s expectant mothers and families with young children so that his school system could help set children on the right track for learning.

The school-based workshop series teaches busy, overwhelmed parents and caregivers how to turn everyday moments into learning opportunities.  The tools are easy, sometimes as simple as talking about the colors of the trucks that pass by while mom and baby head to the grocery store.  The school-based workshop series allows a meaningful conversation to start with parents early  about essential building blocks of education to support future academic successes and to create a strong connection between home and school. 

Beechgrove Elementary in Kenton County was selected as the pilot project because of demographics (60% of children are eligible for free or reduced lunch) as well as administrative leadership at the school.  This leadership resulted in the overwhelming success of the program and was key to success of the project.   First year data shows promising results:




Parent's belief that the child's first year is the best time to start reading with them increased from 80% to 93%
Upon completion of the workshops, the majority of parents (80%) felt very informed about supporting young children's learning and development
Almost all parents increased their understanding of the importance of playing, talking, reading and singing with their children.  Based on the post assessment data, the majority of parents (93%-100%) indicated that they plan on conducting these types of activities more frequently. 
100% of parents indicated that the bornlearning materials were helpful, that they had used the materials with a child and that they found the material helped them understand how their child could learn. 

In the 2010-2011 school year, Beechgrove Elementary continued to engage with the pilot year United Way Born Learning Academy  graduates through educational field trips.  For example, visiting a local grocery store to learn how to make positive nutritional choices, a local toy store in search of educational toys, meeting with doctors from a local hospital to discuss stages of child development and a trip to the local museum to see how to "have fun" while learning.  The goal was to keep these parents engaged until their child entered school and then beyond.  This was not only a powerful step to improve school readiness--but sent a powerful message to parents.

"The Academy is an excellent strategy for schools to reach out and support school readiness.  The key to the success of the workshop series is school ownership and thinking through ways of using existing resources in  efficient ways," said Amy Neal, Success By 6 Manager for Northern Kentucky.  "It's amazing how the community steps up to help when asked."

At Beechgrove Elementary, Family Resource Center Coordinator Julia Goodman is person the behind the scenes person who made it all happen--from recruiting families, to writing grants, to maintaining communication with families in between sessions, to organizing a graduation to celebrate the project.   In year two, Julia was able to secure a $25,000 grant from Cummins Filtration. 

"Not only is Beechgrove serious about their students' future, but my husband & I have also had the opportunity to attend the workshops to learn different ways to teach our own children," said Julia.  "We want to give them as many advantages to be successful as we can.  We have personally learned so much from the workshops and I am excited that other parents are seeing the value in attending the Born Learning Academy at Beechgrove."

   Toyota Grant Expansion

Beginning in the 2012-2013 School Year, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky, Inc. (TMMK) and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America (TEMA) is providing over $1 million in grant funds to United Way of Kentucky to expand the program, under the title "Toyota bornlearning® Academy", which launched in 2012 at 10 Kentucky elementary schools. Toyota committed to funding up to 62 schools in the Commonwealth through the 2016-2017 school year.

“By ensuring that young learners get an early start to their education, we are focusing on quality education that will prepare them for success in life,” said Doug Eberhart, former president of United Way of Kentucky. “We are grateful for Toyota’s investment in, and long-term commitment to, education in Kentucky.”

Leea Martin Slinker of Hiseville, mother of two sons under age five, attended Hiseville Elementary’s Barren County Academy in 2012-2013. “For me, this program has been about creating teaching moments in daily life. It’s understanding opportunities with what a kid is already doing, like talking about patterns by having my daughter choose striped pants or polka-dot pants,” Slinker said. “It’s creating moments out of what’s already there. You don’t have to buy anything, you don’t have to stop and think about it, but it’s about not letting these opportunities pass you by.”

As of July 2014, 34 United Way Born Learning Academies, driven by Toyota are funded in Kentucky, and new Academies are forming in Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia through funding from Toyota and other partners.

United Way Born Learning Academy
is presented by:Toyota Motor Manufacturing KentuckyUnited Way