Learning Starts at Birth – an initiative in Savannah, GA to let mothers know that by reading, talking, singing, and engaging with your infant – they are better prepared to enter Kindergarten – with having over a million plus-word advantage from the other kids that didn’t have infant learning. These kids do better in school – get in less trouble – see research links below-
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
by Paul Fisher
1) Why is there and initiative focusing on birth to 3yr old children in Savannah?
Recent research documents that significant brain development occurs in the first 2-3 years of life. Typically, there are many community resources to help parents and families educate their children starting at school age. Because of the importance of early childhood development, it is being suggested that we provide community resources to help parents and families starting at birth
2) I have heard reference to birth to 3yrs and birth to 5 yrs…..which is it?
To focus on early childhood education the more important description is birth to 3 yrs. However almost all existing community resources accommodate children from birth to 5 yrs. So perhaps the appropriate way to think about it is that the initial focus is birth to 3 yrs which intended to prepare young minds for life’s continuum……..even beyond 3 yrs and 5 yrs.
3) How do you get parents to get involved in Savannah’s birth to 3 yrs initiative?
A huge challenge! All hands on deck. First the endeavor is to be implemented neighborhood by neighborhood. Trusted leadership will need to be identified in each neighborhood to encourage parents to enroll their children in birth to 5 yrs early childhood learning facilities and participate interactively with their children in the facilities and take advantage of new Parent University offerings. Leadership will be sought in the Faith-based community, neighborhood associations, Parent University grads, and more.
Beyond that incentives will be offered to attend Parent University sessions and scholarships will be offered to enroll children in childcare facilities.
4) How long do you expect to focus on the birth to 3 yr endeavor?
Like school and other community resources, the intent is to provide these services with long term view…..at least a generation.
5) What effects will this birth to 3yrs initiative have on our Savannah community?
With all children getting a great start in life, the expectation is that all children will be school ready, enjoy learning, and stay in school, which will lead to less truancy, juvenile delinquency, and teen pregnancy. That in turn will develop a culture that will improve educational outcomes and therefore reduce crime and poverty…..which in turn will mean a safer city, improved real estate values, better educated work force to attract businesses to Savannah.
The vision is to focus on individuals, both children birth to 3 yrs and their parents, to enable individuals to better their lives and as a result they will have transformed our community.
6) Are there any examples of where the birth to 3 yrs focus has worked?
Harlem has been operating a model for several decades known as the Harlem Children Zone. They have successfully enabled parents and their children and have realized improved educational outcomes. By focusing on individuals, those individuals have transformed Harlem. Major crime categories have been reduced by 60-85% over the past 15 years and Harlem has become the hottest real estate market in New York City.
7) Are new resources required to implement the birth to 3 yrs initiative?
The intent is to use community resources that already exist and find additional funding that will allow licensed childcare facilities to train and hire more teachers. Additionally Parent University will add parenting curriculum specific to child education from birth to 3yrs old.
8) Who’s leading the birth to 3yrs effort?
The Rotary Clubs of Savannah and Skidaway Kiwanis has provided some leadership for the research phase of the endeavor which led to the report of 2009. Since then they have played a role in organizing work groups to outline what needs to be accomplished and prompt action.
9) What will the birth to 3yrs effort cost?
The final financial plan has not been written; but early indicators show that to accommodate 1,000 children birth to 5 could cost $5 million/yr in operating funds. An analysis shows that 19 existing licensed childcare facilities in the target area are already being funded by the community at about ½ that level. If costs to finance Parent University’s role are added, the total operational funds needed could reach $3 million/yr. There will probably be “one time” capital needs as well. Again there has not yet been in depth analysis, but it would be reasonable to assume as much as $5 million in capital needs.
It should also be noted that these numbers represent needs in the early years of an initiative that is expected to be sustained for more than a generation. It is highly anticipated that community resources that currently support many remedial efforts can be significantly reduced over time.
10) Where will the money for the birth to 3yrs effort be generated?
The Harlem Children Zone leaders teach that for any effort that requires sustainability for at least a generation, it is unwise to depend heavily on public funding. The vagaries and change in priorities associated with political cycles over that length of time is simply not dependable enough to assure consistent flow of funds. So this endeavor aims at predominately private funding. The Rotary/Kiwanis Clubs will join in fund raising. There will be a concerted effort to ask the community in general to reprioritize their contributions to raise the birth to 3 yr initiative as a priority. But regardless of how much the community finds new or redirected funds, the needs in the beginning will probably outstrip the community’s ability to fund. Therefore the Rotary/Kiwanis will play a leadership role in obtaining private funding outside of our community focused primarily on foundations.
11) How does the Savannah birth to 3 yrs model compare to HCZ?
The fundamental ideas track closely what HCZ is doing. Focus on parents of children birth to 5 yrs…..offering the opportunity to learn how to assure that their child gets great start to life. It also employs a “whatever it takes” approach to encourage parents to get involved. Both endeavors also highlight birth to 3/5 yrs with an eye on its impact on the rest of life’s continuum.
Both endeavors focus on activity neighborhood by neighborhood which will promote natural formation of support groups.
Both will focus primarily on private funding.
12) How does the Savannah birth to 3yrs model differ from the HCZ model?
One significant difference is that HCZ did not have existing early childcare facilities in place. Savannah’s adaptation will include not only opportunities for parents to learn more about early childhood education and development and its importance; but will provide opportunity for all children to have a safe place for early childhood development and learning while parents aren’t able to care for them in the home environment……while at work for example. This dual approach may even prove that the Savannah adaptation can produce better results and sooner.
The HCZ also operates charter schools for the next segments of life’s continuum for the children from birth to 5 yrs. Charter schools are not envisioned in the Savannah model at this time.
Another difference is that much of the fund raising leadership for HCZ comes from individuals that work on Wall Street. In Savannah that leadership will be provided Rotary/Kiwanis Clubs.
13) How many Savannah children will have an opportunity to participate in the birth to 3 yrs initiative?
Initially the focus will be children that live in a geography that is defined by a Youth Futures Authority project, Promise Neighborhood. That geography in general is the area immediate to the West, South, and East of the historic district of Savannah (the map can be viewed on YFA website). It is estimated that there are 1,000 children birth to 5 yrs in that geography each year. In the long run, the initiative will undoubtedly be expanded to include additional geography which may double the number of children.
14) What existing resources are involved in the birth to 3yrs initiative?
Ultimately, it is felt that everybody in Savannah will have an opportunity to be involved in some way. But there are some resources that will be in the front lines and be defined as the actual service providers. In the initial definition of geography there are currently 19 licensed childcare facilities. These facilities will be the primary focus for finding funds enough to enable them to reach the target standards which have been developed by a work group of
Directors of existing facilities. The other primary resource is Parent University, who has agreed to design and deliver the parent skill and awareness program specifically for parents of children birth to 3 yrs.
Secondarily, there are numerous important existing ancillary resources that support the primary resources.
15) How will the community be involved in the birth to 3yrs initiative?
Since the focus will be to raise private money to fund the endeavor, everyone in the community will be able to contribute. As well there will be volunteerism opportunities that will arise. It is a vision that the faith-based segment of the community will play a large role in forming support groups in the neighborhood of focus. Leadership from Neighborhood Association can play a similar role. It has been said that involvement of Rotary/Kiwanis is viewed as the vehicle for the private sector of our community to be involved. One example of potential employer involvement was described in the following: Perhaps community employers would allow paid time off for parents attending Parent University sessions.
16) How does the community find out about the birth to 3 yrs initiative?
Another Rotary work group is planning a community education media campaign that could last as long a year. When funds are available, a website will be developed and maintained.
17) What are examples of information for parents in the birth to 3 yrs initiative?
Parent focus groups are being organized to obtain input on content; but information will undoubtedly include at least: Research on early childhood brain development, importance of language development and language-rich environments, care and nurturing, discipline alternatives, nutrition and health, “ages and stages”, etc.
18) How and when did this birth to 3 yrs initiative get started?
The journey started in 2008 when Rotary Savannah South asked itself the question “ Are our resources….both charitable giving and volunteerism….having the greatest impact possible in our community?” Fifteen civic leaders (including the Mayor, School Board Pres., School Superintendent, several judges, Chief of Police, etc.) were interviewed to obtain an initial view of the answer as well as gain information about the major challenges of our community. They encouraged a focus on identifying root causes of the challenges.
As a result the President’s of the Savannah Rotary Clubs and Skidaway Kiwanis formed a multi-Club Committee to further research our community and early childhood issues. A report of this research was published in late 2009 which can be found on the Youth Futures Authority website.
19) What did the research on birth to 3 yrs reveal?
First, most community resources that aim to resolve community challenges do indeed try to help individuals but are invariably remedial in form…..not aimed at root causes and preemptive in form.
Community challenges are multigenerational, cyclical, and unfortunately disproportionate by race.
A sub culture of children of children having children exists.
The cyclical nature of the issue has resulted in a culture which finds transferring parenting skills from one generation to the next lacking.
Many single teen parent families.
Brain development in the first 2-3 yrs of life is absolutely critical for a person’s ability to acquire knowledge for the rest of their lives. Language-rich environments are the key to this brain development.
One of our social norms suggests that communities do not invest many community resources to aid children prior to school age and they typically are remedial in form.
20) What has occurred so far in implementing the birth to 3yrs action plan?
First a multi-club committee was formed that did research for over a year.
A work group of childcare facilities’ Exec. Dir.’s documented a list of Target Standards will guide facilities’ improvement plans.
A work group has been organized in conjunction with Parent University to design content and format for delivering the parent skill element of the birth to 3 yrs initiative.
Parent focus groups have been held to obtain parent input on content and format for the same program.
At least one Parent University pilot is being planned for this fall.
A new 501c3 is being formed to manage funds specifically for this initiative and accommodate tax-free contributions for private donations.
Presentations and updates have been made to all Rotary Clubs, Skidaway Kiwanis, and several community organizations.
Outreach to foundations outside of the community has commenced.
A year long media campaign is being designed to educate the general community.
21) What are the target standards for childcare learning facilities for the birth to 3 yrs initiative?
The main target is to get all facilities nationally accredited. Accreditation will by definition address issues like teacher qualification, teacher/child ratios, curriculum and assessments, facility criteria, and more. These standards far exceed current state licensing standards.
Additionally it is important that facilities operate “full day” and year round. Head Start for instance operates during school year.
22) Will the birth to 3 yrs initiative emphasize a community-wide effort or an effort organized by neighborhood?
HCZ experience teaches that the only way the model works is to duplicate efforts neighborhood by neighborhood. This allows development of the all important support groups with people that are familiar and with whom there already is trust built. As it turns out this is also the center of community transformation. As parents replace current activities (not always which are positive) with constructive activities by being interactive with the education and development of their children, social norms of the neighborhood changes…..and neighborhood by neighborhood parents transform the entire community.