News & Media

Community Innovation Zone Update


Pennsylvania has a long history of collaborative efforts between early learning (0-5) and Kindergarten-Grade 3 (K-3) settings both at the statewide and local levels. As part of the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant, the Community Innovation Zones (CIZ) are a collaborative effort to strengthen connections across programs and within communities with the goal of helping to reduce the achievement gap by grade 3. Over the course of the project, CIZ have been tasked with reaching out to all partners and programs that serve children and families to create smoother transitions and increase collaborative efforts.

Recently, OCDEL reached out to the CIZ to support a new partnership with local Pregnant and Parenting Teens: Education Leading to Employment and Career Training (ELECT) programs. ELECT was designed to expand the services of existing teen parent programs and provide comprehensive support services to students who meet the income eligibility requirements. The programs are voluntary and the duration of program enrollment extends to graduation or age 22. ELECT provides:

  • Intensive case management
  • Attendance monitoring
  • Summer programming
  • Community collaboration
  • Student record keeping
  • Data collection
  • Transitional services

The goal is to support CIZ as they explore, develop, modify or implement strategies and practices that support and improve a relationship between the ELECT program and their local initiative. OCDEL has offered stipends to 19 CIZ interested in developing this relationship. While the partnerships are new, there are already stories of impact.

Lancaster-Lebanon IU13
The CIZ-ELECT Partnership Prototype Stipend received by Lancaster-Lebanon IU 13 has provided both resources and the opportunity for collaboration. This partnership has led to the facilitation of several workshops for ELECT students and their families. One session was held on July 26, 2017 at Manheim Memorial Park. Families had the opportunity to swim in the community pool before and after a light supper and program. A lifeguard from the pool provided information about water safety prior to a workshop about homemade toys.

The homemade toys workshop began with an introduction to the value of providing interesting and engaging experiences for young children. The importance of using materials that are safe for infants and toddlers was shared, and choke testers were provided for each family. Use of several homemade toys were demonstrated to families. Each family received these toys, including matching fabric pieces and a shoebox with cards to insert in a slot cut into the top of the box. Next, families visited different stations to create their own homemade toys. These included a ribbon pull toy, an outline matching game using cookie cutters, loud and quiet sensory bottles, sock balls, and puzzles made from placemats and paper plates. For each toy, participants also received an information card with ways to use the toy with young infants and older infants and toddlers. The cards included suggested interactions that promote development and learning.

One participant said, “Thank you so much for all these toys. We’ll really use them. He’s playing with them already!” Another ELECT student was pregnant and as the father of the child helped the ELECT student make the different toys, he said excitedly, “Let’s make this one for the baby.”

ELECT students from both Lebanon and Lancaster County school districts attended, and they were accompanied by extended family members who also enjoyed helping to create toys to use with the young children.

From Deb Blascovich, at the PA Department of Education: I was visiting one of the ELECT summer programs this week.... I was thrilled to see that a CIZ was part of the program. They were focused on Early Literacy and Play Based Learning by making appropriate toys, and showing the students how to use the toys for learning. There were multiple stations for the teens to work with their toddlers, and there were grandparents involved as well. It was a wonderful evening and it was great to see engagement and interest in the teens as well as the toddlers and babies. Thank you so much for thinking of ELECT for this grant opportunity.