Anyone who has raised a young child in Colorado knows just how hard it can be to find and fund quality early child care and education. Our state has a shortage of licensed child care providers. According to the Colorado Children’s Campaign, current available services meet the needs of only 45 percent of the 256,000 children birth to age six with working parents in the state. At the same time, our state ranks as the fifth least- affordable state for center-based infant care and for center-based care for a four-year-old.
Clayton Early Learning works to solve early care and education quality and access issues by serving as a center of excellence for all things early childhood education. Located on the Historic Clayton Campus in Northeast Denver, Clayton Early Learning (Clayton) provides direct early childhood care and education services for Denver children of limited opportunity.
Clayton was founded in 1911, following the wishes of George W. Clayton, a prominent Denver businessman and philanthropist who created a trust to launch Clayton College, a school where orphaned boys could live, learn and thrive.
While the Clayton mission changed in 1987 to focus on early childhood education and on serving young boys and girls of all backgrounds, the core value of serving Denver’s most vulnerable children remains constant, and Clayton’s unique approach has proven successful in closing achievement gaps for disadvantaged children so they are poised for success in school and life.
Three decades of national research show that quality early childhood care and education contributes to the development of cognitive skills, social-emotional skills, and character skills, including attentiveness, persistence, motivation, self-control, and teamwork. We know that when children are ready for school before kindergarten, they are more likely to be successful students, read at grade level by the end of third grade, and graduate from high school on time. Research shows that every dollar invested in high quality early childhood learning yields a 13% return on investment.
Nobel Prize winning University of Chicago Economics Professor James Heckman has completed extensive study that shows how investing in quality early childhood developmental resources for disadvantaged families heavily influences health, economic and social outcomes for individuals and society at large. In fact, he developed what is known as The Heckman Equation, which shows that when we invest early in educational and development resources for disadvantaged families, nurture the early development of cognitive and social skills in children from birth to age five, and sustain early development with effective education through to adulthood, we gain a more capable, productive and valuable workforce that benefits future generations of Americans.
Thus, the quality of a child’s early experiences lays either a strong or a shaky foundation for all that follows, and Clayton’s programs are designed to ensure that children, families and educators are equipped with the information and skills they need to succeed.
The Educare Denver School at Clayton Early Learning is part of a national network of 25 Educare Learning Centers that believe that everyone deserves a fair chance to achieve their dreams, and it starts by leveling the playing field from the day we’re born.
Educare Denver makes sure that financially disadvantaged young children in Denver have the best possible chance for success in life. The Educare approach extends beyond the classroom to help children, families and communities thrive.
Through school-, home- and community-based programs, qualifying Denver families receive Head Start and Early Head Start services through Clayton. Instruction is focused not just on the student and on learning, but on wrap-around services that ensure the health and well-being of children and families.
Intensive family engagement is a core feature of the Educare Denver model, as Clayton works to not only place a child, but an entire family, on a trajectory of self-sufficiency and hope.
To help ensure that students come to school prepared to learn, Clayton maintains a foodbank that makes non-perishable canned goods available to families on a weekly basis. In addition, each week the Denver Food Rescue provides fresh produce that is available to all Clayton children and families. And, during the summer months, all Clayton students and families benefit from the Clayton Moonbeam Gardens. Comprised of 20 large garden beds, the Moonbeam Gardens provide outdoor educational opportunities for students as well as fresh produce that is used in student meals at school and offered to families to take home and enjoy.
Beyond health and nutrition services, Clayton’s child family educators provide referrals for families in need of additional community services, including mental health counseling, job referrals, housing assistance and more.
Sharing What We Learn and Know
A unique feature of Clayton Early Learning is that we don’t stop at providing direct services to children and families. Instead, we bring our expertise from teaching young children on a daily basis to our work in training early education practitioners and leaders. With a commitment to enhancing teaching practices in the field, Clayton focuses time and resources on growing a highly qualified early childhood education workforce. Through coaching and extensive professional development opportunities, Clayton helps educators and care providers gain the skills and insights they need to make quality improvements. In 2018, we offered nearly 50 training courses to providers in 20 Colorado counties.
Clayton coaches spend one-on-one time with educators, observing them in action in their classrooms and providing feedback to improve outcomes. We partner with Denver’s Early Childhood Council to provide coaching and training for the Denver Preschool Program and maintain other partnerships that enable us to offer expanded coaching services.
And when it comes to sharing our expertise and advocating for the needs of young children and families, our work extends beyond training providers to informing policymakers. We share what we know with legislators and other early childhood leaders who can effect positive change on a state and national level.
Clayton staff regularly serve as subject matter experts who help inform policy decisions on topics such as access to quality early childhood education and teacher compensation, and we help raise awareness of just how important every child’s first five years of life are to their healthy development. Clayton is also dedicated to educating and inspiring parents, providers and community members to advocate on behalf of children and families.
Using Data and Research to Inform Quality Practice
A key reason why Clayton is successful in teaching young children, and coaching early childhood professionals and advocating for child- and family-friendly legislation, is because our practice is grounded in research. Through rigorous research and evaluation of our own programs and those of other early care and education providers, Clayton’s research and evaluation team studies what works and shares these approaches to impact quality throughout Colorado and beyond.
Overall, Clayton Early Learning is a unique early childhood education provider that brings research and evaluation, training, policy and advocacy and direct child services together to make a lasting and meaningful impact for Colorado children and families.