John E. Morgan Foundation Provides $1.5 million Challenge Grant to Advance Rutgers Center Seeking to Transform Early Childhood Learning in Camden

CAMDEN --  The John E. Morgan Foundation will provide a $1.5 million challenge grant to help the Rutgers–Camden Community Leadership Center work to transform early childhood education in Camden and elsewhere, it was announced on Wednesday, April 9.

Upon successful completion of the grant, the John S. and James L. Knight Early Learning Research Academy at Rutgers-Camden will establish a $3 million endowment -- $1.5 million from the Morgan Foundation and $1.5 million from other donors -- to support successful Rutgers programs for children from infancy to high school.

The grant accelerates the Rutgers-Camden research center’s long-term agenda to create a seamless continuum that fosters a child’s cognitive and social development from birth through high school and beyond. ELRA represents the start of a birth-to-college educational pipeline that aligns the work of ELRA with LEAP Academy University Charter High School, Rutgers University, and other institutions of higher learning.

Through the endowment created by the John E. Morgan Foundation challenge grant, the Knight ELRA at Rutgers-Camden will provide cohorts of children and their families with quality early care experiences and support to prepare them for academic success and school readiness. These private financial resources also will be leveraged to alleviate the financial burden placed on poor families that cannot afford quality early care for their children.

This leadership gift from the Morgan Foundation follows the organization’s $100,000 grant to support classroom renovations, the purchase of instructional materials, and the development of health and wellness programs in 2012.

“As New Jersey’s public research university, Rutgers is uniquely positioned to create opportunities to transform the lives of the citizens of our great state,” says Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Wendell E. Pritchett.  “We are honored and humbled that the Morgan Foundation has chosen to partner with Rutgers-Camden on behalf of our host city. Their investment will strengthen Camden families and Rutgers-Camden’s national reputation as a leading research center in childhood studies on behalf of the very youngest members of our community, here in Camden and across the state.” 

The John S. and James L. Knight Early Learning Research Academy at Rutgers-Camden is a state-of-the-art service and research unit at Rutgers University–Camden that provides early childhood education to 126 infants, toddlers and preschoolers in Camden.  The ELRA is located in a facility at 501 Cooper Street in Camden that opened in 2011.

The Knight ELRA is affiliated with the LEAP (Leadership, Education, And Partnership) Academy University Charter School program, founded by Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, a Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of Public Policy at Rutgers-Camden, where she also directs the Community Leadership Center.

Launched in 1997 as one of New Jersey’s very first charter schools, LEAP serves 1,400 children in grades pre-K through 12.  Every student graduating from the LEAP Academy University High School has been accepted into college.  The LEAP initiative has replicated its best practices in serving children and their families at schools across the state and region.

The relationship between Rutgers and LEAP allows researchers at the Knight ELRA to track the efficacy of their programs as the children progress through elementary and high school.

Bonilla-Santiago notes that the Rutgers center offers an “ahead of the curve” program to nurture the youngest minds in Camden. “The Morgan Foundation recognizes that our work here at Rutgers-Camden represents the sort of innovative thinking needed to advance public education for our children.”

“Funding is scarce for infants and toddlers, but early care is critical,” Bonilla-Santiago continues. “When these children go to preschool, or by the time they reach kindergarten, they are years behind due to a lack of social and emotional development. This funding is crucial to developing school readiness early in a child’s life.”

“We have proven, and continue to prove, that a seamless continuum connecting Camden infants with Rutgers doctoral students benefits families, strengthens communities, and creates a new generation of scholars and education scientists to serve our nation,” notes Bonilla-Santiago. 

The challenge grant remains in effect through Dec. 31, 2017.

Based in Tamaqua, Pa., the John E. Morgan Foundation honors the philanthropic life of the late industrialist who died in 2001 at age 89.  He invented the waffle stitch used in long underwear and blankets in the late 1950s, sold his J.E. Morgan Knitting Mills in 1984, and continued his lifetime work as a philanthropist.

As the southernmost campus of Rutgers, New Jersey’s flagship public research university, Rutgers University–Camden enrolls 6,350 students in 35 undergraduate and 18 graduate programs, including three doctoral programs and South Jersey’s only law school. Rutgers–Camden faculty are respected internationally for their significant contributions to the advancement of knowledge across many disciplines. Faculty consistently command funding from such top federal agencies as the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation, and more.  During the past three years, two Rutgers–Camden faculty members were named MacArthur Fellows, the highly coveted “Genius Grant” honor. Known as a rapidly emerging national model for the civically engaged urban university, the 40-acre campus is located in the heart of the University District at the Camden Waterfront.      

Mike Sepanic


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