Two kids writing on an overhead projector in preschool

Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester

An innovative community partnership works to close achievement gaps and inspires new models in early education.

When you think of your local Boys & Girls Clubs, the first thoughts that come to mind are most likely of afterschool and youth development programs—and you would be right. Lesser known, but just as impactful for our community, is the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester's role as a high-quality provider and innovator of early childhood education programs.

It was the first Boys & Girls Club to offer early education in this region and it was one of the first centers in Boston to become accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester is rooted in the belief that relationships and solid social-emotional support are vital components of developmentally appropriate, high-quality early education and care.

In 2006, it was the first community-based program to adopt the Boston Public Schools' (BPS) preschool model. This partnership was the inspiration for Boston K1DS. These "firsts" led to lasting impact: Boston K1DS became the model for the partnerships in the federally funded preschool expansion grant program.

All of this work started with a question: How can we ensure that each student in Boston starts off on a track to success?

All of this work started with a question: How can we ensure that each student in Boston starts off on a track to success?

The overwhelming response from researchers and educators emphasizes the importance of the early years in school. And Boston Public Schools' pre-kindergarten (K1) offerings are consistently ranked among the best in the nation. A 2014 study indicates that students who attend Boston K1 programs are more prepared to enter elementary school than their peers who did not. The report finds that participation in K1 can close kindergarten racial and income achievement gaps by almost 50%.

For Boston parents, the issue was never about needing research—it was about accessing those high-quality seats. Reaching all kids in the City at the highest levels of quality continues to be a challenge, requiring families to depend on a diverse network of early education and care providers.

BPS and Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester started a unique pilot in 2006 to experiment with district and community-based partnerships. The Dorchester-based Boys & Girls Club adopted Focus on K1, the District's comprehensive curriculum that covers all domains of early learning, as well as Building Blocks, which develops early numeracy. BPS committed to providing professional development and in-classroom coaching to build and enhance teacher practice.

By 2012, the partnership's success inspired expansion. In partnership with United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, Thrive in 5, and Barr Foundation, Boston Public Schools launched Boston K1DS. Through this initiative, BPS expanded its K1 program to fourteen private, community-based preschool classrooms—targeting neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of low-income students and English language learners. These community-based programs received a mix of curriculum, professional development, and coaching support from BPS, as well as funding to increase the salaries of the participating teachers. Collectively, the Boston K1DS partners worked to reach a common standard of excellence for Boston's four-year-olds.

Three years later, Boston K1DS's success informed work far beyond the City. This program served as a model for the Preschool Expansion Grant (PEG), a federally funded program that expands access to high-quality preschool programs in gateway communities across the country. Funded through fiscal year 2019, PEG develops partnerships between public school districts and community-based early education programs, targeting low-income families. With each new or improved high-quality seat, Massachusetts continues toward closing the achievement gap and ensuring that all students—from Boston and beyond—have a high-quality start.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester is a premier provider of hope and opportunity to the youth of the community by providing high quality services through well planned, sustainable growth.

Additional Information and Resources

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    Boston's Preschool Expansion Grant

    To learn more about Boston’s Preschool Expansion Grant, please visit the BPS website.