The start of the school year has begun and millions of young children have returned to class. Unfortunately, too many of these children arrive in the classroom without either the cognitive or social-emotional skills necessary to start to learn.
How can educators and the community ensure that that child is successful in school, no matter their socio-economic status?
There’s a duality within health and education that is a powerful combination. It has the capacity to start early and then continue through a child’s education and into adult life.
Reach Out and Read, an early literacy nonprofit organization connects parents and children to reading through their pediatricians, to encourage families to read aloud together and expose children to literacy from infancy. A recent article from the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council of Early Childhood and Council on School Health examined the correlation between school readiness and early brain development. More specifically, they examined the role of the pediatrician in optimizing school readiness.
Furthermore, a recent New York Times article, “The Good News About Educational Inequality” highlighted how programs like Reach Out and Read “teach parents simple ways to build the vocabulary and cognitive skills that form the foundation for success in school.” (New York Times, August 2016)
Melinda Smith, Superintendent of North Providence School Department in Rhode Island, and member of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, writes about her district’s work in ensuring that the community encourages children to read from a young age. Dr. Beth Toolan of Rhode Island wrote a companion piece from the pediatrician’s perspective which has been published on the Reach Out and Read website.
On September 28th, Reach Out and Read wrote a supplementary companion piece about the powerful combination of health and education services.
By Melinda Smith, Superintendent of North Providence School Department (RI)
As a Superintendent in an urban ring community, I understand the importance of creating a network of community service partners, health care professionals and local pediatricians all working together to improve learning. A Health Equity Zone (HEZ) has been established in North Providence, RI and the school district is the lead agency organizing a community wide project focused on improving healthy lifestyles for citizens and removing learning barriers for our students in the areas of both literacy and numeracy. Working together with the Department of Health and a variety of social service agencies, the school department is reaching out into the community to connect with families well before children enter school to provide them with early literacy advice.
One of our HEZ initiatives includes a “Little Lending Library” nestled in the neighborhood of one of the elementary schools to provide families with quick and easy access to books that they may borrow or keep for their children. The library is being strategically placed on a new walking school bus route in the community and is being promoted by networking with our local pediatricians, hospital, child care providers and community health agencies. The goal is to encourage reading at a young age and bring access to books into the heart of the community. Community members can give a book, borrow a book or simply take a book to promote reading in their home. The school is planning to raise funds and accept gently used book donations to keep the little library well stocked!
Marieville Elementary Principal, Bruce Butler serves dinner three nights a week at his school by taking advantage of the federal meal program. Young siblings are invited to join Marieville students for a hot nutritious meal when parents come to pick up their children. Principal Butler takes full advantage of this personal time with families and always has an inventory of books to distribute to families to take home. His faculty and staff open up the school several times a year to promote the importance of reading. Parents participate in workshops and Mr. Butler, faculty and PTA parents provide child care and literacy enrichment activities. Infants, toddlers and school age children are all welcome.
Our schools are undergoing a transformation and not only serve as a resource to the students and families enrolled in the school but also as community partner which includes children ages birth to five and adults. Working with the RI Department of Health by participating in the HEZ project network has provided me with a better understanding of the responsibility I have as Superintendent to ensure that our schools connect with families well before children enter our school system to promote healthy lifestyles, provide access to community resources that will all contribute to the breakdown of the roadblocks to learning and give all children an equal chance at school success.