There were three kindergartners. One did not know how to cut with scissors. The other could not hold a pencil. Another was able to read.
This is a story Marcia DeBock, director of program development for Brown County Literacy Coalition, told a room full of child care providers, educators and other community members during a community summit titled “How Are Our Children?”
“All of these children were into the public school system,” she said.
“I have a whole new regard and respect for teachers in this community because of the differences in ability that are presented to them in the classroom. And they’ve got to try and meet all of the needs of all of these children.”
Raising the expectations and the school readiness of the county’s youngest residents was the goal of the summit, hosted by the literacy coalition, the Brown County Community Foundation and Brown County Schools.
Key players were there: child care providers, the Brown County Public Library, the Pregnancy Care Center, First Steps, Guardian Ad Litem and others.
The question was: What could the community do to help?
Putting on the summit was part of a grant the literacy coalition received at the end of 2014. The community foundation gave $30,000 to support the coalition’s Ready to Learn program for children from birth to 3 years old. It’s part of the Early Childhood Education Initiative.
The underlying message of all phases of the program is to encourage parents — and the community — to interact with children during their formative first three years.
“Whether you teach them or not, they are learning, and so what they are learning is extremely important and has a profound impact on how they look at school, how they look at life, how they look at one another and ultimately, how satisfied they are as adults and how functional they are,” DeBock said.
A survey was distributed to 200 families who registered for the Ready to Learn program.Summit organizers had hoped to present local data about how the literacy coalition’s program was performing so far, but only about 20 families returned the survey.Half of the survey participants reported spending all day, every day with their young children.
Needs that survey participants mentioned included free preschool; a way to identify mentors or trusted friends that parents/caregivers can rely on when things aren’t going well; workshops and resources to help children with challenging behaviors; and more low cost or free programs for young children.
Seventy-three percent of survey participants were not aware of any community play groups. The coalition will work on creating play groups, possibly in Brown County State Park, DeBock said.
Transportation wasn’t the biggest barrier to attending programs, DeBock said. The survey showed attendance is dependent upon parents knowing the event is happening and the cost.
Parents and caregivers here are not likely to introduce their children to new environments or people, according to the survey. “Their circles are very closed and isolating. … Sometimes that happens in rural communities,” DeBock said.
What can we do?
Groups of summit participants formed to discuss commitments they could make to the Early Childhood Education Initiative.Commitments included spreading more information about services offered by the literacy coalition; encouraging parents and caregivers to fill out the surveys to provide more data; lobbying legislators for free preschool education; and possibly sponsoring a preschool scholarship through the community foundation.Other suggestions and initiatives are welcome. Literacy coalition members plan to follow up with summit participants and reach out to others who did not attend to keep attention on this subject.
Larry Pejeau, CEO of the community foundation, told summit participants they have an obligation to the children of Brown County.
“They may not be our children, but we need to talk to them like they are our children,” Pejeau said. “In this day and age, it takes a village.”
The discussion groups which formed during the summit committed to:
- Communicating and raising awareness about the Early Childhood Education Initiative.
- Gathering more survey data from local families with children ages 0-3.
- Changing the mindset that preschool education occurs only in school; children are learning before they enter school.
- Encouraging families to partake in all resources offered to them in Brown County and sharing information through organizations that have access to young families.
- Finding books for young children who have grown up with drug-using parents to give them hope and show them that there’s another way to live.
- Identifying more children and families in need of free Dolly Parton Imagination Library books and First Steps services.
- Attempting to create a citizen action committee to lobby the General Assembly for preschool funding, to allow for free preschool.
- Sponsoring individual preschool scholarships through the Brown County Community Foundation.
- Identifying and meeting with other groups who have similar goals.
- Contacting Thrive Alliance in Columbus to learn more about its work.
- Exploring the use of the Foster Grandparent Program for small children who are not in school yet.
- Working with parents and high school students on parenting skills.
- Advocating no smoking, especially among pregnant women.
- Exploring ways to involve high school students in early childhood education and/or mentoring.
- Expanding the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Brown County.
- Developing measurable markers for every action in order to assess its effectiveness.
BROWN COUNTY CHILDREN BY THE NUMBERS
29.5 percent of school-aged children live in poverty. The state average is 19.8 percent.
5 licensed child care homes operate here.
7 slots are available in licensed child care programs for every 100 children.
40.6 percent of public school students receive free lunches.
13.3 percent of public school students receive reduced price lunches.
$52,582 is the median household income. The state average is $49,384.
17 children are served by the First Steps early intervention program.
26 percent of children up to age 8 live in household led by a single mother.
58 percent live in a household led by a married couple.
15 percent live in household led by a single father.
48 percent of parents are unmarried.
Source: Julie Whitman, vice president of programs for the Indiana Youth Institute, from the 2015 Kids Count Databook