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A new program in Lynn focuses on early childhood development

United Way Senior Vice President Karley Ausiello speaks during the kickoff for Drive, a citywide school readiness program designed to ensure healthy development of the city's kids before they enter school. (Spenser R. Hasak)

LYNN — A new initiative promises to improve the lives of nearly 8,000 children from birth to age five with early childhood screening.

Drive, a citywide school readiness program designed to ensure healthy development of the city’s kids before they enter school, was unveiled in City Hall Thursday.

The effort is a collaboration of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, Lynn Public Schools, and several nonprofits.

“We are working together to move the needle to improve school readiness for all children by providing early developmental screening,” said Birgitta Damon, CEO of Lynn Economic Opportunity. “This creates the opportunity for prevention and intervention during the critical early stages of a child’s life.”  

The $25,000 project, which is funded by United Way, represents a commitment to develop a citywide profile of the needs of at-risk youngsters. The data allows families, teachers, health providers and community leaders to take a data-driven approach to early childhood education and design a support plan that ensures a child is ready to learn when they enter kindergarten. Eventually the project will try to create a statewide profile as well.

Mayor Thomas M. McGee said the effort is about making sure each child has what they need to succeed.  

“We have a very diverse population in Lynn and our diversity has always been our strength,” he said. “As we face language barriers among our preschoolers, United Way will provide the right kind of support to level the playing field.”

Karley Ausiello, a United Way senior vice president, said Drive has made a difference in Boston where they discovered one-third of the city’s 40,000 children enter school unprepared to learn. So far, 6,000 children have been screened and 72 percent of children were identified with developmental concerns.

“Now we get to bring this important work to Lynn’s 7,900 children and their families, which is huge,” she said.  “We will make sure these children are prepared before they walk through a school door. They will be ready to go with their best foot forward.”

The other nonprofits involved in the project include Gregg Neighborhood House, Family and Children’s Services, Aspire Developmental Services, North Shore Family Daycare, Catholic Charities, and the YMCA.

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