Dr. Dana Suskind of the University of Chicago speaking to a crowd at Booker T. Washington High School. Photo credit: Ron Stallcup
Ever since Dana Suskind, the author of “Thirty Million Words,” gave a talk at Booker T. Washington High School in March, one person after another has asked me how serious Quint Studer and the Institute are about early learning.
We’re serious enough that I’m heading to Chicago to visit Suskind and observe the Thirty Million Words Initiative and its community outreach programs.
Suskind is a professor of surgery at the University of Chicago and the director of the Pediatric Cochlear Implant Program, which gives deaf children the opportunity to hear. She founded the Thirty Million Words Initiative after noticing some of the deaf children who received an implant were picking up language faster than others.
She found that children with parents who talked to them did better. And the gap between children who were performing well and those who weren’t was 30 million words. Suskind also found research that showed children in poverty heard 30 million fewer words than children who lived in affluent households.
She and her staff in Chicago are working to address this issue, and her talk at Washington High School addressed this.
Some others things we’re doing on the early learning front:
-- Shannon Nickinson is traveling to Dallas to research a program called Zero-to-Five. It is a group of philanthropic foundations that pool their resources around this critical time frame in a child’s life. Their efforts are focused on one Dallas area ZIP code — Bachman Lake — where the students at the four local elementary schools are 96.5% economically disadvantaged and 77% have limited English proficiency.
For the first five years of the project, programming focused upon the relationship between parents and children and educating parents about the importance of and how to make an impact in the early years of life on healthy brain and social emotional development. A team from Southern Methodist University studying the project reported that as a result of this work, children whose parents were participants out-performed their peers in several language and reading readiness evaluations at entry to kindergarten.
-- Reggie Dogan is taking an inventory of programs or organizations that provide in-home visits and assessments of children from ages 0 to 5 years old in Escambia County. He’s also compiling a list of voluntary pre-kindergarten and early learning providers in the county and cataloging the criteria and standards they use to assess the developmental needs of children from 0 to 5.
For further proof, you can also listen to this interview Quint gave Rick Outzen, or this column he wrote for the Pensacola News Journal, to get a sense of his commitment to early learning.
As I’ve spent the past several weeks researching the importance of helping children prepare for kindergarten, I ran across an article that ran on the Huffington Post website a couple of years ago.
It was a report about the academic achievement gap between low-income and affluent students. Here’s the paragraph in the story that jumped out at me:
“The study concludes that if all low-income children were offered free, high-quality preschool, it ‘could make a large, persistent positive impacts on low-income children’s cognitive skill and academic achievement and reduce, if not eliminate, the early skills gap between America’s children from low and higher-income families.’”
That’s just one of many reasons why the Institute is serious about early learning and kindergarten readiness. In the next few months, we’ll be publishing more in-depth reports on what we find in Chicago, Dallas and other communities that are working on early learning.