What is Great Expectations?

Great Expectations, a community-wide initiative of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, works to ensure that children in Forsyth County reach developmentally-appropriate milestones in the first five years, enter kindergarten ready to learn, and leave set for success in school and life.

It’s time for a change. Almost half of children in Forsyth County enter kindergarten each year at risk of falling behind their peers in reading. Despite well-intentioned efforts on all our parts, we have not made fundamental progress. That’s why the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust is investing 30 to 40 million dollars over 10 to 15 years towards a new way of working. Through Great Expectations, we’re listening to parents, aligning good efforts, and investing in best practices. We believe this will improve educational outcomes, foster equity, and help every child—and ultimately our entire county—succeed.

There is much work to be done. Only 41.5 percent of economically-disadvantaged students in Forsyth County are performing at or above grade level. Research shows that the educational impact of living in a severely disadvantaged neighborhood is equivalent to having missed an entire year of school. We’re putting a special focus on children living in financially-disadvantaged families, to address this need in the county where we live and work.

Great Expectations was launched in July 2015 and we’ve made good progress over the past year. But we’ve only just begun. Working together, we believe we can positively and equitably impact the entire Forsyth County community for generations to come. We’re hoping you can join us.

our activation plan

Great Expectations was developed with an initial investment in research that includes discussions with a range of local partners and national experts to help the Trust determine best practices and identify evidence-based programs. The Trust will continue to invest in ideas—but successfully changing outcomes for Forsyth County’s youngest children and their families will require changing practice. To do this, the Trust is targeting six areas of investment, as outlined in the Great Expectations Activation Plan:

  • Knowledge development and strategic communications
  • Direct services to improve child and adult caregiver health and well-being
  • Building provider capacity
  • Community engagement
  • Systems development and sustainability
  • Accountability for results

The work of Great Expectations is not done in isolation. There are many organizations and thousands of people at work to help support the development of Forsyth County’s youngest residents. Great Expectations will work with many key stakeholders, including:

  • Families
  • Providers
  • Community organizations
  • Government agencies (particularly the health care system, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, and agencies that administer family support programs)

Great Expectations’ goal and objectives are designed to align with the work of the many organizations serving young children across the county. For example, Great Expectations’ objectives support the goal of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system to have 90% of third grade students reading at a “proficiency” level by 2020. Research indicates that the gains made in early childhood will likely result in reading proficiency gains by third grade.

Great Expectations also understands that families are key participants in and leaders of this work. National research has shown that young children do better when their families do better, so Great Expectations is using a two- or three-generation framework in order to address the needs of the whole family: children, parents, and grandparents/caregivers. This work requires genuine engagement of families in decision-making, and ensuring that parent/caregiver input helps to shape Great Expectations’ program design, practice improvement, policy deliberation and the budgetary process.

Why Great Expectations?

The need today is greater than ever—and that’s why we’re investing in the change.

Like many communities nationwide, Forsyth County struggles with the effects of poverty. Too many of our children lack access to the educational and health resources needed to ensure success.

Only 41.5 percent of economically-disadvantaged students in Forsyth County are performing at or above grade level. At the end of the 2015 school year, only 56 percent of Forsyth County students were considered proficient in 3rd grade reading. There are fewer Hispanic students reading at grade level here than in other parts of North Carolina. 37 percent of children in the County under the age of five (and over 50 percent of black and Hispanic children) live below the poverty line, and this makes it harder for them to succeed academically.

However, research increasingly shows that the investments we make in early childhood have positive effects that last a lifetime. A 2015 funders guide from the Bridgespan Group, Achieving Kindergarten Readiness for All Our Children, cites a recent report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers that found that every dollar spent on early childhood initiatives provides over eight dollars in benefits back to the children themselves and to society. This chart from James Heckman estimates the rate of return on human capital investments from birth through adulthood, and the rate of return on earlier investments is clear.

ROR Chart

Children who are supported in the early years by caregivers and communities are far more likely to succeed in school, less likely to live in poverty as adults, less likely to interact with the justice system, and more likely to grow into happy, productive adults. These outcomes make the case for long-term, community-wide investment in early childhood.