Milton granted ‘promise community’ status

The Milton Family Community Center is focused on increasing the number of children
ready to start kindergarten. (Courtesy photo)

Who is Milton?

For the past year, representatives around town studied this exact question, exploring what Milton needs to become the community it desires. Soon, Milton Family Community Center will disperse $150,000 to area organizations to accomplish this image, which mostly focuses on early childhood development.

“That’s really the premise of what this money is for: Supporting a healthy community so that all children are supported, families are engaged and as children get ready to enter kindergarten, they’re ready to learn,” MFCC executive director Vikki Patterson said, noting she’s expecting the money later this month.

The State of Vermont named Milton a “promise community” in October 2016 through a “Early Learning Challenge – Race to the Top” grant, backed by the U.S. departments of education and health and human services. Milton is one of 24 recipients statewide. 

Patterson and a steering committee of reps from Milton recreation, library, schools, youth coalition, early childhood programs and Vermont Department of Health and Building Bright Futures underwent grant-based trainings.

The committee began by defining what it already knows about Milton. First, the town is rich in resources, has reputable community events and its 10,350 residents help one another, the group reported.

However, not all Miltonians are connected, Patterson said, adding too few children are ready for kindergarten, and not all public spaces are healthy and substance-free.

According to 2010 Census data, 786 children ages 0-6 live in town. In 2011-12, 67 percent of kids tested were ready for kindergarten compared to 56 percent statewide. The same survey in 2014-15 showed 39 percent of Milton kids were prepared, up against a 52 percent statewide average, MFCC records show.

Patterson also used low scores on the New England Common Assessment Program as an example when presenting grant information to school board and selectboard members last month. 

Children accessing public pre-kindergarten increased in 2015-16, totaling an enrollment of 142 3- and 4-year olds. That same year, Milton had 26 licensed childcare centers and registered home providers.

To better their scope of Milton families, committee members held five community forums to gauge residents’ ideals, concerns and suggestions.

“Milton’s already a great town, but what will make it even better?” Patterson asked.

Four common themes informed residents’ answers: Parents want more family support activities, community engagement, communication between area organizations and safer walking within town, Patterson reported. The latter, she said, starts with a ‘yes’ vote on the Nov. 14 tax increment financing vote for projects that officials say will increase walkability – all without raising taxes.

The promise community grant extends to November 2018. By that point, the entire $150,000 must be spent and working toward these changes, Patterson said.

Of the total, Milton Recreation receives $5,000, as do Milton Public Library and the Milton Artists’ Guild. The library plans to purchase materials for literacy programming, and the latter group will develop a community art project unifying town activity spaces, Patterson said. 

Milton Community Youth Coalition is booked for $10K to address smoking cessation and food instability. The grant’s largest allocation at $44K will fund a part-time parent educator position at MFCC. A part-time project coordinator is also slated for $31K.

One focus of Milton’s promise community grant is to provide more in-town activities for kids and families to partake in, like this preschool group. (Courtesy photo)

The project coordinator will implement promise plans, while the parent educator focuses on informal evening and weekend educational opportunities for moms and dads. During community forums, parents said some family center playgroups were inconveniently scheduled, and they didn’t want to attend parenting classes in fear of seeming inadequate, Patterson said.

To increase marketing and communication, the grant will fund $17K on print, signage and online marketing tools to encourage residents to take part in town activities. This effort is centered on keeping families in Milton for events, which includes supporting local businesses. Currently, families are packing up their cars and traveling to communities like Burlington and Colchester, Patterson explained.

MFCC numbers also show $22K for operation expenses and administration, leaving $10K for community training.

The steering committee’s goal is a town website where all nearby resources are actively displayed and easily accessible, Patterson said. Last month, school board member Mike Joseph agreed: Having everything Milton in once place makes sense, he said.

Patterson said the town has historically toyed with a new website, but no concrete plans are set. She also added that Vermont-based consulting firm Flint Springs will provide an initial and concluding assessment of the grant work’s effectiveness.

At the Oct. 23 school board meeting, early education collaborative coordinator Wendy Cunningham, who represents the Milton Town School District on the steering committee, said the grant is already creating greater collaboration between various town parties.

“We’re already working together in new ways that don’t cost any more money,” Cunningham said. “And it really just weaves together what’s so great about Milton — what we already have here — and that’s what gives this initiative legs beyond this one-time money.”

To increase sustainability of the steering committee’s work, members developed an outreach team of people. Town planning director Victor Sinadinoski, town manager Don Turner, selectboard and school board members, school resource officer Scott Philbrook, local medical providers and childcare providers and consultants populate the list.

Yet the question remains: Who is Milton?

“I still believe that we are a community that cares for each other,” Patterson said. “I really believe that this is a community that will do what it takes to make this community the best that it can be.”