Fairmount InSights

The Emergence of a New West Philadelphia

We are thrilled to see the excitement about West Philadelphia’s federally-designed Promise Zone and, more importantly, the investments that designation is helping to attract.

Drexel University and the William Penn Foundation (WPF) recently announced a $4 million initiative that will help more young children in Mantua, West Powelton, and Belmont receive high quality child care so that they are better prepared for kindergarten (and ready to learn). The initiative, like the Promise Zone itself, is truly a collective effort: 23 child care centers and many of the city’s finest organizations will be involved.

Fairmount Ventures is proud to have been involved at several critical points along the way – which also means we’re in a good position to know why the approach worked.

Early Childhood Education

Why the Approach Worked

  1. There is a clear understanding of the nature of the problem: we helped with a Drexel needs assessment in 2011 that identified early childhood education as priority and helped secure funds for a more recent child care needs assessment that was also funded by the William Penn Foundation.
  2. Key actors came together around common, community-driven goals to develop the Promise Zone partnership. Fairmount saw firsthand that the partner are committed to a clear structure, strong accountability, and a research-based link between strategies and outcomes. In fact, the federal government recognized the application for these features.
  3. There are authentic partnerships with philanthropic investors. We also worked with Drexel to secure major funding from the Lenfest Foundation, which is supporting literacy work in Pre-K and K-3 classrooms. This means we know that Drexel has invested time to really understand the changes its philanthropic partners want to make, bounce ideas off of them, and genuinely work together to transform the neighborhoods.

Looking Forward

We should all keep an eye on this initiative because it’s nationally important. Everyone involved is contributing to a true early childhood education system. Organizational and philanthropic partners are heavily invested in the neighborhoods’ elementary schools, which means that there will be supports in place to sustain those early gains once children reach kindergarten. That’s exactly why HUD Secretary Julian Castro visited child care classrooms in the Promise Zone last week.


This content appears in the September issue of reSources, Fairmount’s monthly collection of ideas for people who want more impact, better fundraising and to stay connected to the region’s impact creators. Subscribe here – it’s free.

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