The First Regionwide “Early Literacy Innovation Zone” Will Fuel the Workforce and Economic Development of the Future

A press conference to unveil The Early Literacy Innovation Zone of North Central Massachusetts (Innovation Zone) was held on Thursday, May 24, at Fitchbrug High School. The Innovation Zone is the first education collaborative to create a region-wide “collective impact” model to provide the resources needed so that all children enter kindergarten ready to learn and read proficiently by third grade.

United Way of North Central Massachusetts and Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts have joined with Community, Educational and Corporate partners to create the first multi-school district and regional model in the nation for pooling resources to create a birth through higher education ecosystem that unites multiple communities and institutions around early literacy. This proactive approach is fostering a vibrant culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in a region comprised of small cities and suburban and semi-rural districts. By prioritizing early literacy, the Innovation Zone school districts and partnering organizations will be at the forefront of creating a trajectory of success for grade school children that is needed to fuel the workforce and economic development of the future for this region.

The Innovation Zone consists of the following key partners:  The Community Foundation of North Central MA, the United Way of North Central MA; FLLAC Educational Collaborative (FLLAC); Fitchburg State University, the cities and towns of Fitchburg, Leominster, Ayer, Shirley, Athol, Royalston, Clinton, Templeton, Phillipston (Narragansett RSD), Lunenburg, Ashby, Pepperell, Townsend (North Middlesex), Winchendon, Gardner; and Footsteps2Brilliance, Inc.

Research shows that the greatest disparity of knowledge among children is the vocabulary gap – the number of words a child knows from birth through third grade. Children from low-income families hear 30 million fewer words before the age of 4 versus their more affluent peers.  This problem is compounded by the fact that 61% of low-income children don’t have any books in their homes. The Innovation Zone levels the playing field by providing award-winning comprehensive digital apps in English and Spanish for FREE to all children birth through 3rd grade in the participating cities and towns in the region (listed above).

“The Community Foundation and the United Way of North Central MA have made early literacy a pillar of their philanthropy.  The Innovation Zone is a unique initiative that levels the playing field for all young learners and allows us to unite the entire community around one early literacy solution.  The Innovation Zone will not only be scalable and sustainable, but also will have data to support effectiveness.” says Phil Grzewinski, President and CEO of both the Community Foundation and United Way of North Central MA.

90% of the brain is developed by the time a child is 5 years old. Children who are not immersed in language and literacy during this phase of critical brain development often spend the rest of their academic lives catching up. The Footsteps2Brilliance Technology Platform solves the challenge of providing equitable access to educational resources by leveraging the cell phones and tablets that parents already own to create an effective distribution system of comprehensive educational apps. The platforms unique design allows for offline access and no data costs removing barriers of geography and income status.

“We are thrilled to be working with the Community Foundation and United Way of North Central MA and the donors who are supporting this unique funding partnership, as well as the visionary education leaders who are making this collaboration possible.  Pulling together so many small communities into a region-wide literacy zone will serve as a national blueprint for how public-private partnerships can serve populations who do not live in large urban areas,” says Ilene Rosenthal, CEO, Footsteps2Brilliance.

Fitchburg State University (FSU) joins the partnership as the premier university preparing students in North Central Massachusetts for careers in teaching. Recognizing the innovation and success of the platform, FSU will provide the Footsteps2Brilliance curriculum to its early educational students so that their future teachers will be adept at integrating technology into the classroom.

“Fitchburg State joins the Innovation Zone to ensure that our teachers are 21st century classroom ready. Because Fitchburg State is a Fitchburg entity helping students enter the local marketplace, Fitchburg State’s contribution to the Innovation Zone is an important way in which the University is helping to advance the local economy through college to career readiness and a natural birth through higher education ecosystem,” says Bruno Hicks, Dean of Education at Fitchburg State.

“The FLLAC Educational Collaborative has been pleased to play a role in facilitating the implementation of the Innovation Zone. As an Educational Service Agency we realize the important role we can play in developing and implementing creative, cutting edge and innovative solutions to shared initiatives for our participating school districts.” said Dr. Richard Murphy, Executive Director of FLLAC.

About the Community Foundation of North Central MA:

The Community Foundation of North Central MA is dedicated to helping their Fundholders make a positive impact on their community, serving 33 communities throughout North Central Massachusetts. CFNCM was the first to support the Early Literacy Innovation Zone of North Central MA (Innovation Zone) with grants through their General Endowment Educational Access Fund.  Which then generated exposure to acquire additional support to expand the availability of the program to the region through the early literacy innovation zone.

About the United Way of North Central MA:

United Way of North Central MA mission is to Create opportunities for a better life through innovative leadership that improves the human condition by mobilizing the caring power of the community. Like CFNCM, UWNCM recognizes the importance of childhood literacy and is proud to be a partner in the Innovation Zone the Early Childhood Literacy Initiative.

About the FLLAC Collaborative

The FLLAC Educational Collaborative was founded in 1975. As a non-profit educational organization our primary mission has been to provide high quality
programs for students with special education needs. FLLAC provides services to our member districts and to students from over fifteen surrounding communities.

About Fitchburg State University:

Fitchburg State University, located in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, is a public institution dedicated to integrating high-quality professional programs with strong liberal arts and sciences studies. Founded in 1894, the university now has more than 30 undergraduate programs and 22 master’s degree programs, and 7,000 full and part-time students.  Founded as a Normal School for education of teachers, Fitchburg State University has been educating teachers since it opened in 1894.

About Footsteps2Brilliance, Inc.:

Footsteps2Briliance, Inc. is the breakthrough early learning platform that accelerates early achievement by uniting the power of mobile gaming technology with the latest in cognitive research. Footsteps2Brilliance provides enticing, interactive, 24/7 learning experiences that digitally link school and home to give students the edge they need for success in school today and the world tomorrow. Find us on social media at and