BY AARON SINGLETON
Be on the lookout this summer for a five-foot tall frog that is often spotted around preschool-aged children in Winston-Salem and throughout Forsyth County. He has been known to make children laugh, sing – and look forward to entering kindergarten.
His name is Ready Freddy, the lovable and huggable frog who is a symbol of fun and excitement to pre-kindergarten children. However, he is more than an oversized amphibian. He is a children’s entertainment personality with a purpose. He helps children and parents prepare for kindergarten. For parents, he emphasizes registering children for kindergarten before the first day of school and the importance of consistent kindergarten attendance yearlong. For children, he sparks social interaction, which is important for learning.
The Forsyth Promise (TFP) is a United Way of Forsyth County supported initiative that helps enhance the education of Forsyth County’s students so they all can reach their full potential. For TFP, Ready Freddy is a powerful symbol, a lovable superhero, and the official race starter for a course to school and long-term career success. He is the proverbial tip of a massive iceberg that is a colossal strategically planned and designed network to enhance education outcomes in Forsyth County. Given that pre-school and early education plays a major part in lifelong education, in short, Ready Freddy is huge.
Ready Freddy is, perhaps, the general public’s most easily recognized activity of TFP to date. However, he is only one element of a vast initiative. TFP is a county-wide collaborative, composed of public, business, higher education, clergy, WS/FC School District, Forsyth County government, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders, that serves as a catalyst for organizing efforts and resources around a shared community vision. That vision is that all Forsyth County youth will travel a safe, healthy, and successful educational path from cradle to career. TFP works on the premise that every child was born with limitless possibilities, and that they should be given a chance for a bright future, regardless of race, gender, family income, neighborhood or any other demographic.
TFP currently has three areas of focus to reach its goals: kindergarten readiness, high school graduation, and post-secondary completion.
“Early childhood is a time of remarkable growth and rapid transformation. Studies have shown that children who are ready for kindergarten are twice as likely as those who are not to complete middle school and advance to high school with strong academic and social skills,” said Cindy Gordineer, United Way of Forsyth County President and CEO.
Kindergarten readiness includes pre-school activities, such as learning interactive personal skills, and parental involvement in activities like talking, reading, singing and cuddling. Researchers say these types of activities help wire the brain and develop a child’s abilities for learning. Because pre-school is such an important stage for learning, TFP helps families find funding to pay for childcare and childcare learning. In addition, the TFP directs discussion on helping catch up children who are behind in third grade. Studies show children are less adaptable to catching up after third grade.
“There’s no doubt that being prepared for kindergarten leads to learning proficiency and growth which increases the odds to graduating high school, which in turn, elevates chances for post-secondary education, whether it’s a trade school, two-year or four-year college,” said Chuck Spong, TFP executive team co-chair and executive director of Love Out Loud, a collective of churches that partner with community organizations for the flourishing of Winston-Salem.
The way TFP works is by studying data looking at variances in student achievement. When an opportunity to make an impact is determined, TFP gets the appropriate people around the table to share and discuss best practices and solutions. They then look at finding ways to enhance the learning and school performance for children who have been underachieving.
The people around the table of the TFP are its partners, a broad and diverse collaboration of individuals and agencies that bring our community’s efforts and ideas together to shine light on what’s working well for children, focus on common goals and outcomes, and align our community’s resources and practices to ensure the best educational outcomes for Forsyth County’s children.
“People should learn about TPF and support it because this initiative brings people together to accomplish something that is beyond the capacity of any one organization. As a collaboration of wide disciplines and professions, using collective impact, we are more effective in our work to make sure every child in Forsyth County receives the best education possible and is fully equipped to thrive throughout life. This improves the quality of life for everyone in Forsyth County,” said Latasha Lane, TFP network facilitator.