For over a year, a group of parents and grandparents in low-income communities have been going door-to-door, doing surveys, outreach, and home visits, researching and promoting early learning. They’ll discuss their work Monday as part of a symposium celebrating the accomplishments of the Chicago Early Learning and Literacy Project.
In the course of a year, members of the parents group POWER-PAC and allies surveyed 2500 families in Austin, Englewood, Humboldt Park and Logan Square. As interest in their work grew, they were asked to conduct outreach for Head Start, and began working with Illinois Action For Children  on a home-visiting program for CHA families with small children.
They’re trying to identify barriers to early education in low-income communities and come up with ideas to overcome them, said POWER-PAC organizer Kelly Magnuson.
Issues range from mobility and transportation to security concerns to “a huge lack of awareness” of the importance of early learning as well as of early learning opportunities. Some 40 percent of families they contacted did not know of any resources for pre-school children in their community, Magnuson said.
For those who might wish to enroll their system, a vastly complicated preschool system is difficult to navigate, she said.
Despite the state’s Preschool For All program, an estimated 15,000 low-income children in low-income Chicago communities aren’t enrolled in preschool, Catalyst  reported in September. Some preschool sites have long waiting lists; others have trouble fillling their slots. Early education has been shown to have a major impact on children’s success in school and beyond.
Maryann Plummer is an Englewood grandmother and POWER-PAC member who has gone door-to-door doing surveys and home visits. Many young mothers she’s encountered “have too many problems of their own,” she said.
“They’ve got problems finding a place to stay or putting food on the table, finding a job or staying off drugs,” she said. “We heard a lot of [young parents say they’re] not worried about early learning — their kids will go to school when they’re five — they’re worried about how to pay rent.”
In home visits she brings learning games and books and explains the importance of early education.
“You have to get through to the parents first and let them see the importance,” she said. She tells them: “You want to give your child the opportunity you didn’t have. You want to see the best for your child.
“And they’re buying it.”
Magnuson, an organizer with Community Organizing and Family Issues , said having community members doing surveys and outreach is crucial to getting through to new parents and caretaking grandparents.
Leaders from POWER-PAC will present results and recommendations from their work (one idea: add funding for transportation to the state’s Preschool For All program) at Monday’s symposium on the Chicago Early Learning and Literacy Program, an 18-month effort administered by Illinois Action For Children to bring early education opportunities to at-risk children. Other workshops will discuss collaborations with city agencies and schools as well as parks, libraries and clinics which incorporated early literacy activities into their programs.
Also on display will be “Big City, Little Learners,” an exhibit documenting the project’s effort to bring state-of-the-art teaching methods to 11 schools and child care centers. Teachers and young students explored the city and used activities like mailing a letter, riding a bus, or going to a candy store to develop topics for investigation.
The symposium takes place Monday, December 17, 3 to 7 p.m. at the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph. Info at 773-564-8801