UAE ambassador and local business leaders invest $1.6 million in early education.
By Laura Wainman
Joseph Robert Jr. was known for his generous spirit and encouraging others to think big; which he did right up until he passed away last December by donating $5 million to the future of his nonprofit Fight For Children. As the year anniversary of Robert’s death approached, the FFC team began brainstorming how they could honor him and his mission to reform education access for low-income children. Their answer? Joe’s Champs: a program focusing on early childhood education and ensuring that children ages three to four in the District’s high-need neighborhoods are taught by quality educators.
“The idea was to start a program incorporating everything Joe was passionate about, that FFC could support and rally around financially,” said FFC Chairman Raul Fernandez. “We’ve seen a renaissance in education reform in DC since Joe created FFC, but there is still a gap in pre-k education, so we wanted to focus our energy and dollars there.”
Joe’s Champs was announced on October 10 at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School as a component of FFC’s broader Ready to Learn DC program. United Arab Emirates Ambassador Yousef Al-Otaiba, Fernandez and FFC Board of Directors members Chuck Kuhn and Fred Schaufeld collectively donated initial funding of $1.6 million. Fernandez was joined at the launch by FFC President and CEO Michela English and Washington, DC Mayor Vincent Gray to announce the program’s five-year plan of raising $10 million and directly impacting 10,000 low-income children. Mayor Gray has been particularly vocal about the importance of early childhood education, including opening an Educare facility in Ward 7 to provide year-round Head Start and Early Head Start programs to children up to four-years-old.
“Research has shown that for every $1 invested in quality early childhood education, you’ll receive a return on investment of $7 in benefits to society,” says English. “It’s been proven that when we reach these kids early, they are more likely to pay taxes, stay out of court, continue with their education and land higher-paying jobs.”
The pilot program will include six charter schools and will begin training principals and teachers this spring. English, who has been working on the details of Joe’s Champs for more than nine months, said FFC has partnered with Capital Teaching Residency and Urban Teacher Center to provide the teacher training for Joe’s Champs. The goal is to have 100 trained teachers within five years.
For Fernandez, who has three children under the age of 10, Joe’s Champs has personal meaning.
“My kids all had varying degrees of pre-k education and I’ve really seen the benefit of those extra years before kindergarten,” said Fernandez. “Kids are expected to be veterans when they get [to kindergarten], but if you don’t have the means to get your child that education, they miss out on an early structured foundation. When Joe started FFC there were very few organizations fighting this fight, and now we fortunately have a lot of partners working for education reform. We wanted to make a difference in a new area, and a $10 million investment aimed at three and four-year-olds is something new, and big and an area where we can move the dial. If we can get these kids ready for kindergarten and they aren’t as far behind, then the job of K-12 educators will be easier. It helps the whole system, and we are doing it for Joe.”