Yale is investing in the educational experience of first-graders in Arkansas, as well as that of undergraduates in New Haven.

The Yale Center in Child Development and Social Policy received a $2.9 million grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation to fund the School of the 21st Century program in Arkansas. The program’s goal is to disseminate the “21st Century” school model, which seeks to improve childcare and education by involving both schools and the community, through the Arkansas school systems.

“We have given out grants to 27 different programs within Arkansas so far,” said Beth Lapin, senior associate of the center and director of 21C Direct Services. “We also use those funds to provide technical assistance and training opportunities with those involved in 21C Arkansas, among other activities.”

She said the center plans to use the funding to expand the School of the 21st Century program throughout the state.

“We absolutely believe [the program] has been successful,” said Terri Hardy, education policy advisor for the office of the governor of Arkansas. “We have several school districts that have applied and are working with the 21st Century school program.”

The Arkansas program is one part of a larger effort that has been implemented in over 1,300 schools across more than 20 states since its original inception in 1988. Yale psychology professor Edward Zigler developed the School of the 21st Century theory, which was first installed in Independence, Mo.

The theory at the core of Zigler’s program is that higher quality educational programs and community services benefit the development and education of young and school-age children, while less than adequate education and childcare programs might detriment development, said Matia Finn-Stevenson, director of the School of the 21st Century Program.

“If children are in any preschool program or in an after school program where the quality is minimal, they are likely to suffer developmental consequences,” Finn-Stevenson said.

In order to establish higher-quality opportunities at schools, she said the program combines education with both extended childcare and community involvement.

The School of the 21st Century Program seeks to offer childcare and education for three-, four- and five-year-olds and all-day, year-round, before- and after-school childcare options from kindergarten to age 12. Finn-Stevenson said the program strives to include families with children from birth to three years of age, and provide support on health care and nutrition issues.

There are many ways schools become involved in the program. In some cases, individual schools show interest, in others entire states want to promote the program.

“In some cases, such as Connecticut and Kentucky, the legislatures have come to us and asked us about the program, and they have appropriated the money to start the programs,” Finn-Stevenson said.

But funding for the School of the 21st Century initiatives is not solely state-based.

“Most of the schools provide the funding through a variety of the mechanisms including state funding, federal funding and private grants,” Lapin said.

The schools also collect fees from parents who can afford the programs, Finn-Stevenson said.

In the state of Arkansas, Lapin said, much of the funding for the 28 current 21st Century programs is provided by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. The school districts with 21st Century schools encompass nearly 20 percent of the Arkansas student population, and local school administrators said they have seen positive results.

“You have schools and communities and families working together,” said Frank Holman, superintendent of schools for Cabot Public Schools in Arkansas, who has been involved in the 21C network for five or six years. “It is just beginning to pay dividends when you have quality childcare programs in your whole community.”

Holman said the district’s programs are open to students from kindergarten to high school during the spring, fall and summer terms.

The School of the 21st Century program has made a difference with individual schools by providing the funding and guidance to extend their offerings. At Ward Central Elementary School, the program helped establish a pre-kindergarten program.

“21C gave us an opportunity to offer extended learning for our children,” Ward Central principal Michele French said. “[Students’] performance is better in school, and they are more well-rounded.”