Education

Brain Bags launch as part of Early Learning City effort

May it be a gift that keeps on giving.

The first IMPACT Brain Bags are going home with new moms at Pensacola area hospitals this week. Designed by Studer Community Institute staff, the early literacy tools help parents begin to understand the power of parent talk in the early development of a child’s brain.

The Brain Bags are a step in the Institute’s journey to improve the quality of life in the Pensacola area through early education and workforce development.

The bags include teaching points — developed from materials from SCI’s partners at the University of Chicago’s Thirty Million Words Initiative — to give new parents advice about how to work more words into their interactions with their babies at home.

Building a language rich environment is critical for young children, especially in the first three years of life. Research shows that 85 percent of the human brain is developed in the first three years. It is the time when the wiring of the brain is laid.

How strong that basic wiring influences the “achievement gap,” and impacts how a child will learn as he or she prepares for kindergarten and, studies suggest, has effects that linger throughout a child’s school life and adulthood.

The gap was outlined by University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risely, and found that children from lower-income families hears on average 30 million fewer words by age 3 than their peers from better-off families.

Susan Davis, CEO of Sacred Heart Hospital.

The Brain Bags feature a copy of the children’s book “P is for Pelican: The ABCs of Pensacola,” a baby book to help parents track brain development in the first three years, a rattle and a binder highlighting community resources that can help support moms and dads build healthy brains for their young ones.

“The science of the Thirty Million Words tells us that starting at birth, reading and speaking to our children is the most powerful tool to help children develop brain function,” said Sacred Heart president and CEO Susan Davis. “Sacred Heart is committed to helping children get a healthy start to their lives and the Brain Bag is the best way to help a child achieve their potential.”

In October 2016, we were awarded an IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay Area grant to launch the project.

Since then, the Brain Bags have become a key piece of SCI’s effort to build Pensacola into an “Early Learning City,” a place that enlists the whole community in creating a culture of lifelong learning, including in its public spaces.

It’s an important effort because only 66 percent of Escambia County’s kindergartners are ready for kindergarten on the first day of school, according to the most recently available data from the Florida Office of Early Learning.

An Early Learning City is a community that support early brain development, parent engagement and school readiness for all of our children, especially those ages birth to 5.

Mark Faulkner, president and CEO of Baptist Health Care.

An Early Learning City gives parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, caregivers, childcare and healthcare professionals a common language to use about why talking and reading early and often to a child is vitally important to that child’s ultimate school readiness.

“We are grateful to SCI for the critical role they play in resourcing, leading, and partnering in the effort to improve early education and school readiness,” said Mark Faulkner, president and CEO of Baptist Healthcare. “Without a doubt, we all share a common purpose of lifting the quality of life in our community. The availability of these Brain Bags to every new mom will be another important step in accomplishing that purpose.”

Davis, Faulkner and Carlton Ulmer, president and CEO of West Florida Healthcare, have been unanimous in their support for the project. They see and understand the critical link between school readiness and future academic and personal success — something that benefits the entire community.

Carlton Ulmer, West Florida Hospital President and CEO.

Ulmer believes the Impact Brain Bags is an important tool that patients need and can use to be successful outside the hospital.

“Joining the Studer Institute in the implementation of the Brain Bags for our new mothers and families speaks to our mission of being committed to the care and improvement of human life,” Ulmer said. “The teaching points that we are providing through the Brain Bag initiative are critical to the importance of language in early brain development and will have an impact on our patients and overall community for many years come.”