Building an Early Learning Nation—One Neighborhood Block at a Time

Last month, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families brought local leaders from 14 cites together in Orlando, Fla. as part of its City Leadership for Building an Early Learning Nation initiative. During the meeting, local leaders had an opportunity to hear from Orlando city officials who are taking a neighborhood approach to build an early learning community through its Parramore Kidz Zone (PKZ).

The earliest years of life are critical to a child’s development and a growing body of research provides evidence that the places where children live, learn and play have a significant impact on their health and development. Early learning communities are increasingly turning their attention to neighborhood living conditions, ensuring that all young children grow up in communities where they and their families can live safe and healthy lives.

On the first day of the meeting, city teams toured four different sites in the PKZ each aligned with one of the four building blocks from the Early Learning Community Action Guide:

  1. Community leadership, commitment, and public will to make early childhood a priority;
  2. Quality services that work for all young children and their families;
  3. Neighborhoods where families can thrive; and
  4. Policies that support and are responsive to families.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer launched PKZ in July 2006. PKZ is a multi-sector, public-private partnership that delivers a full network of research-based programs and services to level the playing field for children, youth, and their families in Parramore—the city’s highest-crime, highest-poverty neighborhood. The initiative is modeled after the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone. Harlem Children’s Zone has been moving the needle on the academic, social and economic success of children and their families in the historic Harlem neighborhood of New York City.

By concentrating investment within a targeted neighborhood, the PKZ initiative makes the case that bringing prevention programs to scale in a narrow geographic area can improve child and youth outcomes for an entire neighborhood.

Since the start of PKZ, the Parramore neighborhood has seen a 66 percent decline in juvenile arrests, a 73 percent decline in teen pregnancies, and a 270 percent increase in the number of children attending high-quality early learning programs.

Due to the success of PKZ, the City of Orlando announced last year that it is taking the same approach to the nearby neighborhood of Holden Heights.

While some cities like Orlando take a block-by-block approach to improve outcomes for young children and families, other cities’ presented unique methods to participants too. On the meeting’s second day NLC’s faculty city leaders from Jacksonville, Fla.; Madison, Wisc.; Kent County, Mich.; San Francisco; and Pittsburg participated in panel discussions on effective policies and strategies for building early learning cities.

Participating city teams made plans for how they would begin to use the Early Learning Community Acton Guide to inform their next steps.

Through the City Leadership for Building an Early Learning Nation initiative, NLC will continue to work with these city leaders toward the goal of building an Early Learning Nation by 2025.

If you are interested in learning more, contact Anna White at the YEF Institute at

About the Author: Anna White is a program manager in the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families