Judy Centers showing success in school readiness

May 08, 2018

Ensuring Baltimore’s children are ready for kindergarten is a crucial goal for BCF, and for our city. After identifying Judy Centers as an intervention that delivered results, a small group of very generous donors enabled us to open eight additional Judy Centers in Baltimore City. Now, new kindergarten readiness results from across Maryland are showing that strategy has been effective – and school principals around Baltimore want to replicate Judy Centers in their own schools.  

Judy Centers are one-stop shops for low-income children and their families to access services and supports they need to get ready for kindergarten. Each Judy Center is located within a neighborhood school building, and offers services like preschool, health care referrals, family support, and parenting and caregiver classes, to any parent of a child between the ages of 0 and 5.

The keystone of Judy Centers – and what sets them apart from programs like Head Start – is that they adapt to meet the needs of the specific community they serve, and identify local resources that can be leveraged to meet their school readiness mission.

Encouraging results 

In the three years since BCF raised $6 million to help launch more Judy Centers in Baltimore, readiness of Judy Center students has steadily increased, as measured by the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. In 2017, 41 percent of Baltimore’s 6,000 kindergarten students demonstrated school readiness. Students who received supports and resources through Judy Centers demonstrated readiness at an even higher rate, and they also outpaced their peers across Maryland. 

“We’re seeing now that data backs up our theory that Judy Centers increase school readiness,” says Billie Malcolm, BCF’s program officer for education. 

Buzz around Judy Centers grows

The buzz is spreading about benefits of Judy Centers to other schools. Najib Jammal, principal at Lakeland Elementary in South Baltimore, has been planning for a Judy Center at Lakeland for years. Lakeland wasn’t selected in the earlier, BCF-supported Judy Center expansion. But as the student population has become more diverse—60 percent of his students now are considered English language learners— Lakeland’s youngest students face unique challenges when they come to kindergarten.  

“Once we learned about Judy Centers, we reached out to BCPS and asked, ‘How do we get on this list and become a Judy Center school?’  We started putting in place programming we thought would support Lakeland getting a Judy Center,” says Jammal.  

That work has resulted in the district tapping Lakeland for the next Judy Center location. A coordinator is on site preparing for a 2019 launch. And the school has already worked with local philanthropic partners to renovate the adjacent Recreation and Parks Recreation Center to include spaces where community partners can provide resources to parents and families, as well as services like laundry, cooking classes, office supplies and more.

The future 

BCF continues to advocate for the adequate public funding critical to continuing operation of Judy Centers. We also are tracking and advocating for more pre-kindergarten resources and support through the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, which will shape the future of education across the state. 

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