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YMCA opens learning center in Vine City: Teach toddlers to read, job skills for adults

David Pendered
YMCA, early learning center, blank

By David Pendered

The YMCA of Metro Atlanta opened an early learning center in Vine City Tuesday, where advocates of children hope to break the pernicious problem of illiteracy. The YMCA’s reading program aims to teach reading and vocabulary to infants through prekindergarten in the type of low-income neighborhood where national data shows 89 percent of black children score below “proficient” in fourth-grade reading skills.

YMCA, early learning center, blank

Arthur Blank delivered remarks at the opening Tuesday of the YMCA of Metro Atlanta’s early learning center, in a facility that bears Blank’s name. Blank was joined by Lauren Koontz, president/CEO of YMCA of Metro Atlanta, and Charlie Yates, of the YMCA’s advisory board. Credit: Mike Rieman

The YMCA’s Read Right from the Start, to be used at the new center, has proven effective in other sites in the city. It’s a method of teaching that aims to help educators approach language education in ways that connect with youngsters from lower income families, teaching reading skills and improving vocabulary.

The facility can serve up to 90 youngsters, and the plan is to give priority to pupils who reside in Vine City, English Avenue, Castleberry Hill and other Westside neighborhoods, according to a report from Atlanta.

Along with the reading program, the center is to offer a wellness program for youngsters ages 3 years to 5 years, and has partnered with Westside Works to offer job training programs a Child Development Associate strand that allows adults to earn a credential needed to work at early learning centers.

Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, cut the ribbon on the facility that bears his name – The Arthur M. Blank Early Learning Center at E.A. Ware. Lauren Koontz, president/CEO of YMCA of Metro Atlanta, joined Blank in delivering remarks.

The center is located within the YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta Leadership and Learning Center, which opened at the site of Atlanta’s earliest elementary school for African American pupils, E.A. Ware Elementary School. Ware was the first president of Atlanta University.

Educators have recognized that lower income students have learning challenges that evidently aren’t overcome by some current teaching techniques. The evidence appears in results of a national survey, and the phenomenon was cited this month by Atlanta school Superintendent Meria Carstarphen in comments this month to the Rotary Club of Atlanta.

An analysis by the Annie E. Cassey Foundation of data collected in 2009 by the National Center for Education Statistic, which is located in the U.S. Department of Education, shows:

YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta Leadership and Learning Center

The Arthur M. Blank Early Learning Center at E.A. Ware opened Tuesday in Atlanta’s Vine City neighborhood, in the YMCA’s year-old regional headquarters, the YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta Leadership and Learning Center. Credit: Mike Rieman

  • 89 percent of black pupils who qualify for the free/reduced-price lunch program scored below proficient on a fourth-grade reading test;
  • 74 percent 0f black pupils from families with moderate or high incomes scored below proficient on the test;
  • 76 percent of white pupils who qualify for the free/reduced price lunch program scored below proficient on the fourth-grade reading test;
  • 52 percent of white pupils from families with moderate or high incomes scored below proficient on the test.

Carstarphen spoke to the poverty issue in her Aug. 5 presentation to the Rotary. As Maggie Lee reported in SaportaReport, Carstarphen said:

  • “We can’t take the victory lap if you’ve got basically 75 percent of all the kids at APS … living in poverty,” Carstarphen said, “Poverty is at the heart of everything we’re facing.”
  • “These are odds kids can’t fight on their own,” she said, pointing to a graph of wealth, race and student achievement nationwide — Black students dominated the side of the graph about family poverty and low student achievement. White students came from wealthier families and were higher-achieving students.  It also had a little inset about Atlanta.
  • “You can see that white students … they’re 4.5 grade levels ahead of black students and it’s tied to poverty,” Carstarphen said.

The YMCA headquarters opened in June 2019. Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm, provided $2.5 million for the project from proceeds derived from the Westside Tax Allocation District. New Markets Tax Credits valued at $6.8 million were allocated in order to attract private funding. About $16 million in donations had been identified when Invest Atlanta provided public funding in 2017, according to a report from Invest Atlanta.


David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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