All Children Deserve Educational Success
The Opportunity Project is a charitable organization 501(c)3 devoted to providing an early childhood education to children in poverty. We believe all children deserve the opportunity to learn, regardless of their economic status.
Numerous national studies and TOP's own longitudinal study have proven that high-quality, early educational day care and preschool services produce dramatic improvements in the life outcomes of economically at-risk children. In fact, individuals who were enrolled in a quality preschool program ultimately earned up to $2,000 more per month than those who were not; young people who were in preschool programs are more likely to graduate from high school, own a home, and have longer marriages. They are less likely to repeat grades, need special education, or get into trouble with the law. Because of this, TOP along with its numerous public and private partners, is dedicated to offering the very highest educational opportunities to all 1 to 5-year-old children, with a focus on children from low income families. Understanding the community benefits possible when all children are ready to learn in kindergarten, TOP advocates locally and nationally for higher quality early education, especially for children living in poverty.
How It All Began
The turn of this century had a profound effect on Wichita businessman and entrepreneur Barry Downing, who grew up in poverty. The year 2000 offered great cause for him to reflect upon his journey and financial success, so he and his family began looking for a way to use their resources to help others.
In 2003, The Opportunity Project established the first TOP Early Learning Center. By 2011, two more preschools and child care centers, strategically built in Wichita's poorest neighborhoods, were serving children of low-income families.
“Early childhood education is a smart financial investment and also a moral responsibility. We owe it to these children to have a chance, to arrive at school prepared to succeed. It’s both a head and heart issue,” says Downing, who is a proponent of more public dollars to support early education for all children.
Where It Is Going
With the capacity to teach and care for up to 600 children a year, TOP prides itself on measuring outcomes, continually improving its curriculum and teaching techniques, and providing the highest quality education and care to its students. Preparing children for success in kindergarten and beyond is of utmost importance, not just in Wichita but across the nation. That’s why advocacy for early childhood education is so important, especially for those who are economically disadvantaged.
In 2007, a Kansas coalition of more than 100 business and community leaders was formed, calling itself the Kansas Coalition for School Readiness. This is an informal group that advocates for high-quality early education. That same year, Governor Kathleen Sebelius praised TOP Early Learning Centers in her State of the State Address saying, “…initiatives like The Opportunity Project in Wichita have shown us what’s possible when children receive the help they need at an early age. This wonderful early learning program for low-income children is a great example of a public-private partnership at work.”
To date, TOP Early Learning Centers have been toured by more than 120 State Legislators, two U.S. Senators and three U.S. Congress members, allowing them to see for themselves what a high-quality, early education looks like and the children their lawmaking support helps.
Did You Know?
- 131,000 children live in poverty (18%)
- 56,000 children live in extreme poverty (8%, $11,000 or less for a family of 4)
- Approximately 6,600 children participate in the federally-funded Head Start program but only 12% of 3-year-olds and 41% of 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded pre-K, Head Start or special education preschool programs
- 70% of children under the age of 5 have both or their only parent in the workforce
- 24% of high school students do not graduate on time with a high school diploma
- Surveys and studies demonstrate that children who have not received an early childhood education usually are not able to perform well because of the lack of care and the required interaction.
- Advances in brain research show that children are born learning and that their first years of life largely determine the success they experience later in school. Early experiences that are nurturing and active actually thickens the cortex of an infant's brain with more extensive and sophisticated neuron structures that later determine intelligence and behavior.
- While most middle and upper-income children have a nurturing early experience, children in poverty often live in chaotic environments. Low-income parents may struggle to find a job or pay the bills and consequently don't have the means or time to create a stimulating learning environment for their children, resulting in an achievement gap between them and children of means that is visible as early as nine months of age.
Publications About TOP Early Learning Centers
- Early Childhood Education: Long-Term Benefits (Journal of Research in Childhood Education)
- Full-Day, Year-Round Ealy Care and Education Benefits and Barriers (The Kansas Children's Cabinet & Trust Fund)