Research on the importance of the first eight years of a child’s life is clear: If children have the benefit of a high-quality education from birth through third grade, they will be on a path to success in school and as adults.

The Dunbar Learning Complex is home to Educare Atlanta, formerly known as the Early Learning and Literacy Resource Center, and Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary School and serves children from birth through fifth grade. Sheltering Arms Early Education and Family Centers manages Educare, while Dunbar Elementary is part of the Atlanta Public Schools system.

The idea for a world-class complex that offers high-quality, literacy-focused and seamless instruction grew out of early public and private investments to support school readiness in the neighborhoods around Dunbar Elementary. The lead partners — Sheltering Arms, Atlanta Public Schools and the Annie E. Casey Foundation — worked alongside parents, community residents, state agencies, private funders and service providers to design and raise funds for the complex. Their collective efforts transformed Dunbar Elementary to include a high-quality early childhood school, which became Educare Atlanta in fall 2012.

Parents of young children who lived in the community were active participants in the planning and design of the complex. They participated in facilitated conversations with the architect tasked with converting Dunbar Elementary into the two-tiered Dunbar Learning Complex. In those conversations, parents shared many ideas implemented in the final design, including windows that would be low enough for young children to see through and glass blocks to increase the amount of natural light coming into the lower levels of the building.

The Casey Foundation also brought together a group of leaders that included representatives from United Way of Greater AtlantaVoices for Georgia’s Children, United Way of America’s Success by Six, Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, National Black Child Development Institute, Center for the Study of Social Policy, Quality Care for Children and Sheltering Arms, among others. These groups shared advice and best practices as they identified evidence-based practices, programs, curricula and supports that ensure children from low-income families become proficient readers and successful students.

In January 2010, the Dunbar Learning Complex welcomed its first group of children. With aligned curricula, assessments and standards, Educare Atlanta and Dunbar enable children to learn to read by the end of third grade so that they can read to learn throughout life.

This partnership is the next great idea for communities that are serious about improving education.”
— Elaine Draeger, Sheltering Arms