Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents have struggled to simultaneously work, provide child care, and supervise virtual school; compounded by the uncertainties and emotional hardships faced.
LEE member Brittany Collins is fighting for those parents – a breath of fresh air for many young Atlanta families who face educational inequity.
She is the founding director of Promising All Atlanta Children Thrive (PAACT), a collective impact initiative led by the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS), aimed at reducing disparities and inequities for Atlanta's youngest children and their families. Her strategic leadership drives a vision to provide high-quality, affordable early care and learning opportunities, connections to health services and early intervention, and parent support.
Brittany sat down with LEE’s Director of Policy & Community Impact, Erin Snow, to discuss her path and the policies that must change to improve educational access for all young children in this country.
The Early Childhood Education (ECE) work you do is inspiring! Can you give us an overview of your role?
I lead a collective impact initiative at GEEARS, specifically focused on the City of Atlanta. My role is to form cross-sector partnerships and commitments between government, nonprofit funders, the business sector, and community members. This work is organized around a common agenda focusing on improving learning, health, and well-being outcomes for young children in Atlanta.
In 2018, about 24 key education, political, community and philanthropic leaders in Atlanta worked together to focus specifically on the needs of children ages birth to five in the City of Atlanta. The Council established a PAACT (Promise All Atlanta Children Thrive) to ensure children will be brought up in the best city in America for early learning.
I was hired to lead the implementation efforts — securing funding commitments from different sectors, amplifying parent and educator voices, and developing a plan to implement and evaluate the recommendations.
It must have been especially challenging, considering the shifting dynamics of ECE, parents working from home, and childcare and preschools shut down.
Suddenly parents were home caring for their children, and employers realized the vital role of stable child care for their employees. I’ve noticed a shift that child care is now in the national spotlight. Even if you had never thought about the connection between child care and the economy, it was now visible.
Although I entered 2020 with a bold and ambitious plan, the early care and learning landscape was hit hard. We were up against a different set of forces — from the child care's financial uncertainty or evolving parent attitude and behavior about child care. Atlanta is already ranked the second-worst city in the country in terms of upward mobility, with stark health and educational disparities across racial and socioeconomic groups. Early on, we knew if we didn't adjust and act, we could potentially lose a substantial supply of high-quality early learning slots, especially in low-income neighborhood areas with a dearth of high-quality supply pre-pandemic.
What motivates you to work with children and families, and what are you most excited about right now in your work with GEEARS?
I enter this work as a mother of three Black children, a first-generation student, former educator, and a relentless advocate for educational equity. I was raised in a neighborhood full of extraordinary leaders and people, yet plagued with decades of disinvestment. I was surrounded by mentors and educators that filled the gap to ensure I had access to opportunities paired with my potential and talent. It’s both my personal and professional mission to impact the lives of students who look like me and radically change systems we often struggle to navigate.
When I reflect on the work I lead alongside children, families, and partners, I believe we have to focus on both dismantling and rebuilding the system to address the root causes of inequity. What drives me is continually asking, “How can we ensure that children have a life filled with opportunity from the very start? How can we ensure families are the heroes or heroines of their own story?”
What are your long-term goals for this work?
We want children to be healthy, to learn and be ready to succeed, and for their families to receive equitable social and economic support. Quality early childhood education for children from low-income families is one of the best ways to promote upward mobility, and this is an investment that pays off for everyone. Simply put, we have a moral and practical obligation to do better for children.
Long-term, we want Atlanta to be the model city for raising young children. In Atlanta, we want to be able to say that families have access to high-quality, affordable learning opportunities, with educators who are well-equipped and supported to ensure their students are prepared to thrive as residents.
What issues should LEE members be considering in their communities?
We should be advocating for effective policies that increase access to high-quality early learning and encourage healthy development. COVID will have a dramatic and lasting impact on children, families, providers, and the early care and education system. You may have read recent articles that estimates about 2.5 million women left the workforce during the pandemic; the number is truly staggering. We must focus on proposed policy solutions for policymakers, employers, and higher education that create a more inclusive workplace for working families, such as paid family leave.
Have you had mentors who made a particularly strong impact on your career path?
I’ve had an army of mentors that stand behind me and pour into me. My mentors are my “secret sauce,” and I’ve never made a huge career decision without informing and seeking input from those trusted individuals. Mentorship is essential.
The first person who comes to mind is Dorian Burton, whom I met during my time at Purpose Built Communities. I didn't notice it at first, but he helped me confront my insecurities, own my voice, and realize I have the talent, passion, and capability of shaping policy in a real way. I deserved to be in the room.
I imagine you're starting to think about playing that role for others and bringing others up too.
Absolutely. When people call to ask for my advice or guidance, my first thought is, “I'm still learning myself.” But then I pause and think, “We all have a story to tell, and hopefully my story and experiences will contribute to someone else’s success.”
*This interview has been transcribed and is in subjects' own words, with edits for clarity or brevity.