By KAITLYN NAPLES
What started out as discussions of what was needed in the community for Bristol children to succeed in school, ended up becoming a lengthy document that is constantly updated with plans to make sure children are healthy and ready to learn.
The Bristol Early Childhood Blueprint is a grant-funded community plan that is a result of a meeting of the now Bristol Early Childhood Alliance, which occurred back in 2007.
“We all had the same ideas, we just weren’t using the same words to describe them,” said Donna Osuch, president and CPO of the United Way of West Central Connecticut.
After deciding the plan was to make sure “every single child in Bristol is healthy and ready to learn by age 5, and achieves developmental and school success by age 9,” those who generated that idea decided this would be the community’s plan.
Bristol was awarded a grant from the Connecticut Early Childhood Education Cabinet in partnership with the state Department of Education and the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, one of 23 grants handed out for communities that were undertaking a specific planning effort, thus the Bristol Early Childhood Blueprint.
The Bristol Blueprint Committee’s “Results-Based Accountability (RBA) framework of community planning,” ensuring that the plan developed is based on data, is results-oriented and contains a strong mechanism for community-wide accountability.”
Right now, the committee has committed to focusing on four areas: infant and toddler care, physical and emotional health, equal access and success, and quality.
While the committee was deciding how to proceed with the blueprint, workgroups within those topics were formed, members met with local citizens, educators, health professionals, and more from all sectors.
“We looked at what we thought were the big issues, did focus groups (with parents, doctors, teachers, etc.), did surveys, interviews, and more to find results,” Osuch said, adding the committee presented its findings to members of the public, to get feedback on with they thought were the big issues in the city. Conclusions were made, and Osuch said the committee didn’t want to just keep planning, but take action.
Under the health umbrella, the committee was able to put together a program where local dental hygienists did mouth examinations on preschool students in Bristol, who were receiving federal or state aid. This was around the time when some pediatric dentists weren’t accepting state healthcare.
Another program that came out of the health umbrella was in regards to childhood obesity. After doing a study on preschoolers, it was determined 40 percent of low income preschoolers were overweight.
Programs that were a direct result from this category were provided through the Bristol Hospital Parent and Family Center. These included cooking classes, how to grocery shop, learning to grow your own foods, and Zumba family classes.
Kim Carmelich, manager of the Parent and Child Center, said these programs helped teach adults how to cook healthy foods for their children, while they still taste good, how to get the “biggest bang for their buck” when grocery shopping, and also partnered with the University of Connecticut for a four-week cooking class.
The Blueprint, Carmelich said, “really shows the true partnership between multiple agencies in Bristol” and that they are all collaborating, rather than competing for the same grants.
A collaboration among the Bristol School District, The Bristol Early Childhood Alliance and the Bristol School Readiness Council, and the Bristol Fire Department, started an initiative seven years ago that allowed a kindergarten student to ride to school on his or her first day in a fire truck. This was a way to encourage parents to register their kindergarten students early, and on time.
Another program is the free books and ice cream handed out in neighborhoods a few days before the beginning of school. There are also free books available at various locations throughout the city which are also a direct result of the Blueprint.
“All of the programs are geared towards making sure children are prepared to learn and are healthy,” Osuch said, adding one of the next initiatives the committee is working on is focusing on the infant and toddler sector.
Carmelich said she is part of the work group that focuses on that area, and said the committee has just applied for a grant to fund a program that would focus on women’s mental health and issues that may be related to postpartum depression, or just the “baby blues.”
She said if the grant is awarded, the goal would be to offer Edinburgh screenings, which are an accurate way to see whether or not a new mother has postpartum depression.
Osuch added the committee plans to focus on the preparedness gap before preschool as well.
“As we travel this journey, we learn more and more” and are keeping the Blueprint up-to-date with new findings and data, she said. Bristol was one of the first communities to implement this plan, and Osuch said other communities are, or are looking into, creating one of their own.
The committee is made up of individuals from all areas of the community, and anyone is welcome to attend their meetings, suggest ideas, provide information on what they think are issues, and get involved.
For more information on the Blueprint, visit www.uwwestcentralct.org or visit www.makingbristolbetter.com.
By KAITLYN NAPLES