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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f7707e000090.5 WESA's Life of Learning series focuses on learning and education activities, opportunities and challenges in the Greater Pittsburgh area.This multi-year commitment to providing learning-focused news coverage in southwestern Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Grable Foundation.

Pittsburgh Joins Six Other Cities To Develop Early Education Programs

Pittsburgh has been selected to be part of a new initiative by the National League of Cities to develop early education programs and improve the outcomes for young children in communities across the country.

City Leadership for Building an Early Learning Nation also includes Dayton, Ohio, Jacksonville, Fla., Kansas City, Mo., Minneapolis, Minn., Portland, Maine and San Francisco. Pittsburgh and its partner cities will have one year to develop and begin implementing ideas to “catalyze a shift” in the way local communities approach early childhood education.

“A strong early learning system contributes to an educated populace and a strong local workforce, both of which influence growth, economic development and the overall vibrancy of a city,” said NLC President and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.

Latrenda Leonard Sherrill, deputy chief of operations and administration in the mayor’s office, said the league will provide technical assistance and research and help “guide the conversation” to develop early education programs in Pittsburgh.

“There are other cities really trying to do this at the local level, and hopefully, we can learn from each other,” Sherrill said.

Improving early learning involves both formal education and informal learning opportunities, she said.

“We know a lot of young children do not have access to high quality early education so we need to increase that," she said. "But number two, making parents, organizations (and) all nonprofits knowledgeable about strategies that support young children.”

Outside the classroom, that could include programs at libraries and other facilities or playing at recreation centers. She said the focus of this initiative is not just on pre-K but on younger children as well.

“So from 0 to 5, what are the young people in our city learning and how do we make it a little bit more structured?” she said. 

According to Sherrill, the Steel City already has a lot of community partners in place including Pittsburgh Public Schools, legislators and local foundations and programs. Ideally this initiative will tap into those collaborations and expand them, she said.

“So in that sense, we’re already starting off on a great foot," she said. “This will help us determine ... our next step.”

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm