Helping children enter school prepared to learn
Supporting Spanish- and Somali-speaking parents
In Rochester, Minn., nearly 50 percent of kindergartners enter school not fully prepared to learn. Many of these students are not native English speakers, making the transition from home to school even more of a challenge.
"Research has shown that children who begin school not fully prepared are less likely to succeed in school, to graduate and go on to college, and to have the job skills necessary to succeed when they enter the workforce," says Jean Locke, chair of Rochester Area Foundation First Steps, a public-private economic development program dedicated to ensuring all of the community's children are prepared to succeed when they start school.
Creating literacy-rich environments
First Steps is working to increase the number of children who enter school prepared to learn by reaching out to their first teachers: parents and other caregivers. Through its SEEDS program (Sensitive Parenting, Encouragement, Educate, Develop through Doing, and Positive Self-Image), First Steps is teaching these important adults how to create literacy-rich environments for the children in their lives. Mayo Clinic has contributed $750,000 to the program over the past seven years.
Investing in the community
Susan Ahlquist, director of community relations at Mayo Clinic, says Mayo considers its contributions an important investment. "We recognize the importance of education and early childhood development as key social determinants of health," says Ahlquist. "Making an investment in children today will reap benefits for our entire community in the future."
"The SEEDS program started out as an intensive, 17-hour training program for childcare providers," says Locke. "It was very well received, and more than 40 percent of Rochester's licensed childcare providers completed the training." The program was then adapted for parents. "Parents are a child's first and best teachers, so we wanted to make the program available to them," says Locke.
Adapting materials for Spanish- and Somali-speaking parents
With financial support from Mayo Clinic, the SEEDS program for parents was adapted for Spanish- and Somali-speaking parents. "It was not just about translating materials," says Locke. "We adapted the program for the different cultures."
The adaptations have been well received, with more than 100 Somali or Spanish parents and caregivers completing training in 2011. Locke says that many of these parents report that SEEDS is the first parent education class they have participated in.
Studies have shown that children need to know at least 10,000 to 12,000 words to be successful readers — words they can pick up in a variety of ways. "Literacy isn't just about reading," says Locke. "It's about speaking, writing and comprehending information. The SEEDS program doesn't tell parents to drill their kids on the ABCs. It gives parents the tools they need to get their children ready to learn. That means teaching them how to listen and follow directions. The social and emotional pieces are what are most important for young learners."
Learning new strategies
Feedback from program participants has been positive. "Parents want what's best for their kids, and they are eager learners when introduced to strategies that will help them to help their children succeed in school and life," says Locke.
To measure effectiveness, First Steps has commissioned a research study by the Wilder Foundation. A baseline assessment was conducted before the program began, with follow-up studies in 2010 and 2012.
"The study will help us determine what the real elements of quality are in child-care settings," says Locke. "Mayo's funding has helped us continue this research."
Mayo has also been a major contributor to the Rochester Area Foundation First Steps Kindergarten Readiness Study.