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New website unveiled to guide parents toward services

8:00 PM, Jul 15, 2013   |    comments
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By Tony Gonzalez / The Tennessean

Tennessee unveiled a new website for families that allows parents to search for information about programs and services available to help their children in a single place.

The website, www.kidcentraltn.com, can also tell families about programs near where they live based on ZIP code, and will suggest related pages based on the search terms they type in.

The new site collects information that has been spread across state government websites. In the next two months, the information will also be available in an app for mobile phones, officials said.

"It totally eliminates parents having to dig or having to go out and find services on their own," said site designer Josh Hernandez of Nashville-based iostudio, which partnered on the project with the Governor's Children's Cabinet.

Officials showed off the site Monday during the annual Tennessee Early Childhood Summit at the Music City Center. More than a thousand teachers, school administrators, researchers, state officials and child care providers will gather again today.

The website was one of two projects announced by Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam, who co-chairs the children's cabinet.

The second project she touted was the state's new "school readiness model" for preschool education. The model sets specific goals for families, schools and communities to pursue to prepare young children for kindergarten.

Parents, for example, should read to their children every day. Schools should focus more teacher training on how to transition children into kindergarten.

And community institutions, such as churches, libraries and recreation centers, should create events for families with young children.

Haslam asked attendees to commit to promoting the ideas and often revisited the theme of the summit: that the success of children depends on families, schools and communities working together.

National education expert Carol Brunson Day, who helped develop the school readiness model as a consultant to the children's cabine, said many states focus only on creating a list of skills that children should have before entering kindergarten. But Tennessee has decided to make clear who is responsible for building those skills.

"Tennessee's model recognizes the critical importance of the three systems that surround children: the family, the school ... the community," she said. "It charges us to ignite action."

The summit arrived during a time of uncertainty for preschool in Tennessee, where the benefits of publicly funded pre-K education are being rigorously debated by researchers and lawmakers.

The state also is eligible for more than $64 million in additional federal funds under President Barack Obama's "Preschool for All" initiative. A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam recently told The Knoxville News Sentinel that the funding is being considered while Tennessee awaits the results of two Vanderbilt University studies.

The summit, which includes dozens of 90-minute sessions, mostly avoided political discussions.

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