success story

PBS Wisconsin Ready to Learn: Enhancing Early Education

Bringing learning to low-income areas

PBS helps rural Wisconsin youngsters become ready to Learn

Children in low-income communities often miss out on some of the educational opportunities available to those in higher-income areas, and their families often face challenges such as food or housing insecurity. Could high-quality, media-rich learning programs help address these challenges? Were there opportunities to get families more involved in their children’s early education? The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Public Broadcasting Service set out to answer those questions. They chose 30 public media stations across the U.S.—including PBS Wisconsin—to form community partnerships as part of a Ready to Learn Initiative.

A Cashton-Westby collaboration forms

The PBS Wisconsin Ready to Learn – Community Collaborative for Early Learning and Media (CC-ELM) partnership targeted Cashton (in Monroe County) and Westby (in Vernon County), neighboring cities in southwest Wisconsin with a total combined population of 3,300. Families in the largely agricultural area are among the state’s poorest. Armed with a $5,000 planning grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 2017, Madison-based PBS Wisconsin worked with the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association to conduct a needs assessment and establish goals. In fall 2018, a partnership among PBS Wisconsin, the Cashton and Westby school districts, Bekkum Memorial Library and Coon Prairie Lutheran Church was one of 14 such partnerships around the country chosen for the program. Their focus would be on children in low-income households, ages 2 through 8, and their families and caregivers. They would receive early exposure to literacy and science through Ready to Learn’s PBS KIDS digital and hands-on educational content.

During the first year, the partnership:

  • Held eight series of workshops for families that included sharing a meal, involving 42 families with a total of 114 children
  • Trained 23 educators to be Ready to Learn facilitators
  • Held two summer school Ready to Learn camps for children in Cashton and Westby

During the second year, the partnership expanded to Kickapoo Elementary School. Another 27 families with a total of 54 children participated in workshops, and 45 more educators were trained.

Educating youngsters, engaging families

A report after the first year showed:

  • 100% of families reported their child enjoyed the programs
  • 88% said the Ready to Learn program increased their child’s excitement about and interest in science
  • 82% said their child uses science more often to explore, build or understand the world
  • 100% of families indicated they wanted to spend more time helping their child learn at home

PBS Wisconsin staff members said the program should expand to improve early learning across the state. Learn more in a report on the project.

“It exposes them to other learning content that they hadn’t been exposed to prior. One of the most positive things about these programs are the connections and relationships that are being created.”

- Kari Huth, Principal, Cashton Elementary School

“The kids showed up and their parents showed up. And you could see the parents’ joy and, all of a sudden, working with their kids, and having conversations with their kids.”

- Michele Engh, Westby Coon Prairie Lutheran Church