The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
We appreciated reading a recent article highlighting Doris Buffett’s philanthropic generosity in Maine.
Educare Central Maine, one of the recipient organizations of Buffett’s generosity, echoes the significance of not only her charity, but her strategic vision ensuring her investments impact multiple generations.
The first Educare School, established in 2000 in Chicago, still serves today as the first of 25 Educare Schools, a nationwide demonstration model for how to break the cycle of poverty by closing the learning gap for children from low-income or stressed environments before entering kindergarten. Buffett was inspired by her niece, Susie Buffet’s Early Childhood Fund that was expanding the model. The longer-term independent studies were already making the case for what we have learned in Maine since Educare began operations in 2010 with Buffett’s $3 million pledge toward a $9 million investment: when young, low-income children are served in Educare’s high-quality program consistently for four years, they are on par with their well-resourced peers and ready for successful kindergarten-entry socially, emotionally and cognitively.
Buffett’s significant investment to bring an Educare School to Maine was the catalyst for state administration, foundation and stakeholder commitment to improve early childhood education, setting a public-private plan in motion to establish the first Educare School in the northeast. Educare Central Maine is a partnership between Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, Waterville Public Schools, the Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation and the Buffett Early Childhood Fund.
Based on extensive research, Educare’s model framework is based on four core features: high-quality teaching practices; embedded professional development; intensive family engagement; and data utilization. Research-based evaluation is a key component of each Educare School, collectively by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and locally by the University of Maine.
Educare Central Maine opened its doors in 2010, annually serving 200 of the highest needs children in the Waterville community, positively impacting 1,375 young children and their families. Children with continuity of care (year over year) demonstrate sustained growth, scoring slightly ahead of their peers. One hundred percent of families receive education on supporting their developing child and receive support toward parent goal attainment such as securing improved housing or transportation, sustaining employment or advancing their career path, many pursuing higher education. The myriad of supports for children and their families creates positive change in the trajectory of a young child’s life!
Buffett’s investment reaches far beyond Waterville. As we strive to impact the lives of children and their families locally, we are equally committed to sharing what we have learned across the state through our Beyond the Walls effort. Recently, the Elevate Maine-Somerset project utilized Educare’s core features and skilled staff coaches to expand high-quality early childhood services through a network of independent rural childcare programs. The impact on the primary 113 children and their parents served over the past five years exceeded our expectations.
Maine Community Action Partners are in the process of submitting a statewide Early Head Start Child Care Partnership federal grant application to expand the success of this project. Additionally, the Maine Legislature, in partnership with advocates and seasoned early educators, have proposed a multitude of bills that tap into Educare’s core features for a community-based approach to comprehensive health, social services and quality childcare.
Buffett’s passion and generosity created a ripple effect and a profound legacy in Maine. As our state rebuilds the childcare workforce capacity lost due to the pandemic, we believe it is our collective duty to honor her legacy by ensuring that all children in Maine, especially those born into stressed environments, have the chance to succeed in education and life, which benefits all of us today and for years to come.
Jim Clair is the CEO of CSS Health and chairperson of the Educare Central Maine board of directors. Bill Alfond is the president of the Bill & Joan Alfond Foundation and a member of Educare Central Maine’s board of directors.