Cradle to Career Education: An Introduction

Building a Better Future for Students

Millions of dollars are spent annually to support the education, health and social welfare of young people across the nation. Much of the money’s impact is lost on children who are deserving of so much more, but are trapped in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. Even though some school districts are getting better, we would all agree that too many students test below grade level in elementary school, have high dropout rates in high school and struggle to find employment after graduation. Although there are many factors at play, education is the most time-tested strategy for breaking the cycle of poverty.

The Cradle-to-Career Education Pipeline

Here at LIFT, we’ve teamed up with Purpose Built Communities as a part of our strategy in improving education. By working with local leaders to implement a holistic, place-based revitalization model in their community, Purpose Built Communities has become one of the front-runners in breathing life back into marginalized neighborhoods. Their work has had incredible outcomes in Atlanta, New Orleans and beyond. As a member of a select collection of 13 cities, LIFT Orlando follows a model developed by Purpose Built Communities that focuses on mixed-income housing, community wellness and a cradle-to-career education pipeline. While each of these parts are important, the education pipeline is absolutely critical in providing families a pathway out of poverty.

The cradle-to-career education pipeline is the educational experience for a child that begins at 6 weeks old and continues through the end of high school as students launch into college or their careers. The pipeline requires collaboration between schools and partners, often in unfamiliar and profoundly different ways. This requires both schools and other partners serving children to significantly alter their work to ensure a functioning pipeline.

The Challenges of the Education Pipeline

Purpose Built Communities has learned from years of research where the leaky points are in any cradle-to-career continuum. Transitions between elementary and middle school and between middle school and high school, for example, are places where too many young people fall by the wayside. Their research also shows that a child’s preparedness for kindergarten and ability to read at grade level by the third grade will determine to a great extent whether he or she will finish high school, become economically self-sufficient and remain on track for a healthy life.  

The goal of the pipeline is to seal those leaks and ensure that children perform at grade level and are given the help they need if they fall behind. Seamless transitions between early education, elementary school, middle school and high school do not happen organically or automatically; they must be created through intentional collaboration and a focus beyond the four walls of any one school building. All parts of the pipeline are more effective when they work together to help create and own the connective tissue bridging the different phases of a child’s education.

In addition to creating smooth transitions throughout the education pipeline, outside services help insulate the pipeline from factors that damage a student’s psyche. These services focus on the social, emotional and health needs of the students. In eliminating hunger, toxic stress and other factors that inhibit learning, students are freed to pursue education in a meaningful way.

The Victories

In the East Lake neighborhood of Atlanta, the neighborhood that pioneered what is now known as the Purpose Built Communities model, the collaboration of several partners has made the difference in creating a pipeline that serves children from birth all the way through high school. Partners at institutions like the East Lake Sheltering Arms Early Education and Family Center, the Cox Pre-K Program and the Drew Charter School hold each other accountable by focusing on the neighborhood and its children. All of these schools are aligned in their geographical attendance preferences, the result of policy changes to consciously focus on serving the low-income children in the East Lake and Kirkwood neighborhoods.

Beyond focusing on a defined geographical area, these schools have aligned their cultures and incentives from a management perspective to buy into the pipeline. Once each organization is bought-in, it changes how it measures success and its employees’ success. For example, the Head of School at Drew Charter School’s annual goals include targets regarding the number of children who enroll at Drew from the two early learning programs in the neighborhood, and he is evaluated in part on reaching those targets. The two early learning programs and Drew Charter School do joint planning and professional development, include children from all programs in age-appropriate joint activities and support one another’s goals.

This is just one example of schools looking beyond their own walls. Schools must work together to ensure children are given every opportunity to succeed while they are part of the education pipeline. Most importantly, partners in the pipeline cannot be complacent. Success requires constant vigilance and collaboration at every step. In the Purpose Built Community model, a lead organization in the community, such as LIFT Orlando, helps hold partners accountable and prevent complacency.

How It’s Happening in Orlando

LIFT Orlando is working with the neighborhoods of West Lakes to unify an incredible education pipeline for students just outside the Citrus Bowl. Already the leadership at Jones High School and Orange Center Elementary School are working with LIFT to bring a much-improved system of education to these neighborhoods.

LIFT Orlando’s approach to education incorporates both charter schools and public school. Legends Academy opened up this year as our primary charter school option with over 270 students and a waiting list. Together with Orange Center Elementary, as our two stem elementary schools, we have over 450 students in our elementary pipeline, which includes the early childhood education system at Frontline Outreach.

Making cradle-to-career education a success is hard work. As we move into these processes, we want to make sure you’re educated on what’s ahead. You can continue to learn about the depth, width and significance of education by visiting our partners at Purpose Built Communities. To get a closer look at the other significant factors shaping the wellbeing of students lives in the neighborhoods of West Lakes, visit our blog.

This article is based off of, "The Importance of a Cradle-to-Career Education Pipeline" by Carol R. Naughton (the President of Purpose Built Communities). Much thanks to her for her continued excellence in this field and generosity in letting us use her work.