Carol Keintz is in her third year as executive director of the Next Door Foundation in Metcalfe Park, a neighborhood with a high poverty rate where one-third of the homes have been foreclosed.
But Keintz doesn’t believe that those facts define the community.
“Milwaukee has an untapped resource in just amazing people who believe in family and believe in their kids and really want to change the trajectory of their children,” she said. “And they’re working hard to do it. What you see on the news typically are the bad folks. What you don’t see are all the other folks who are working really, really hard.”
Keintz said the foundation’s programs revolve around expanding opportunities for local children. “We’re primarily focused on early childhood education. We want to do it well [and we] are doing it well. Eighty-eight percent of our kids tested proficient in literacy and language in kindergarten this year.”
Next Door’s early childhood education program is known as Educare, a state-of-the-art program used by about 15 schools in cities throughout the United States. Based on Head Start, Educare mandates small class size, close monitoring of teachers, and an emphasis on assessment and research. It focuses on developing early skills and promoting parent-child relationships that create a foundation for successful learning.
“It’s sort of a prep school for low-income kids,” Keintz said. “Some of us talk about it being Head Start on steroids.”
A successful early childhood education program requires hiring qualified teachers. “We want to have teachers and supervisors who have the highest credentials and experience, because these children have the highest needs,” Keintz said.
She also noted that retaining good teachers is difficult because of burnout. “Our staff gets enmeshed with our families, and [if the family is struggling] they feel that they’ve failed when they really haven’t failed; they’ve moved the family forward,” she said.
“I try to make sure every day to tell one of my staff something they’ve done that has made a change in the families of the children here,” she said.
Stephanie Williams and her youngest daughter go to school together at the Next Door Foundation in the Metcalfe Park neighborhood. Williams attends GED classes while her daughter participates in the Early Head Start program.
[read the post]
This story is part of a special report focusing on eight agencies that provide services to neighborhood residents in a variety of communities. Students from Marquette’s Diederich College of Communication created the pieces under the supervision of Prof. Herbert Lowe and NNS Editor Sharon McGowan.