First Steps Kent

“We want every child entering Kindergarten to be healthy and ready to succeed in school and in life.” 

Kate Pew Wolters, First Steps Kent Co-Chair

In the first three years of a toddler’s life, 85% of its brain develops. Everything during that time, from diet to speech skills and socialization, affects a child’s ability to be ready –or not — for Kindergarten two years later. Kindergarten readiness can be an indicator of how well a child will do in the ensuing school years. And there’s a clear domino effect: When children are not developmentally ready for Kindergarten, they often struggle to read by third grade. And those who don’t read well by the end of third grade are less likely to graduate from high school than their friends who do.

Roughly a quarter of all children in Kent County, Michigan entered kindergarten at the beginning of this decade with challenges that hindered their ability to learn and progress. Eager to change that bleak picture, in 2009 a group of funders created First Steps Kent (FSK) as a public-private partnership to strengthen and coordinate early childhood services and to address barriers to learning for every child in the county before they enter Kindergarten.

“Our goal was to develop a system of cohesive and collaborative services for children, working for the benefit of all,” says Kate Pew Wolters, a member of the commission that oversees First Steps and whose foundation helps fund the organization. “We want every child entering Kindergarten to be healthy and ready to succeed in school and in life.”

For that to happen, research shows that communities must invest in the development of their young children. High-quality learning must begin at birth. And parents need to be connected to a logical menu of services so they can access the education, skills, resources and opportunities that give their children the best chance for a strong start in life.

As was the vision of the founding commission members, there is now one comprehensive community plan for early care and education in Kent County from crib to Kingergarten. First Steps Kent continues to promote the coordination and alignment of more than two dozen partner organizations and programs that serve the needs of young children and their caregivers, and advocates for the rights and resources that foster kindergarten readiness for every child in Kent County.
“We carry the message and mission of the organization wherever we go,” says Kate Pew Wolters. “It is our true north.”

To learn more about the system of services for young children in Kent County, visit

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