The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust launched a multi-million dollar education initiative today to improve early childhood education in Forsyth County. It will be used to help economically disadvantaged students and parents overcome poverty challenges.

The goal of the program called Great Expectations is to reduce education achievement gaps in Forsyth County.

Karen McNeil-Miller is president of the Trust. She says it will  invest $30 to $40 million over the next decade, and the money will benefit struggling families.

The services will include, nutrition, literacy, and language development, as well as job training for parents.

 “Parents carry adult size problems. But unfortunately, too many kids carry adult-size problems. If we can help alleviate the parent's issues, problems and challenges they face, then they can focus more space to address their own children,” says McNeil-Miller.

According to recent data from the trust, around 54 percent of children under age six live in poverty, and more than 60 percent of students in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools qualify for free or reduce priced lunch. 

Joe Crocker of the Trust's Poor and Needy Division says those children are more likely to enter kindergarten behind their peers and more likely to fall behind.

“If we invest early in this population, the graduation rate that the United Way and others are now talking about won't be as much of an issue, that the criminal justice system won't have to be so overwhelmed, that public benefits won't have to be used as much, so this is really an investment that will save the county and state later on,” says Crocker.  “If we do this right, we know that we will be successful in doing this and that's what we are hoping to do."

The program will also include funding to create literacy support stations at some county libraries and remodel playgrounds at more than 20 Title I schools in the district.

*Follow Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news.

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