What if you could change the trajectory of a child’s life by taking a few simple steps, such as giving a preschooler some picture books, helping a parent teach their child to read, and making sure that parent had access to quality child care? It sounds simple, but small changes like these can be incredibly impactful for a child’s future.
“When kids enter kindergarten ready to learn, their third-grade reading is significantly more likely to be on track,” says Abigail Sharp, vice president of early childhood initiatives at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. “And third-grade reading is an indicator for high school graduation. It’s the boom, boom, boom of an education trajectory, moving into career readiness, military readiness or college readiness.”
Sharp and her colleagues understand that every stage of a child’s learning and development is linked, affecting the rest of his or her life, as well as the community at large. Education, along with income and health, is a key building block of opportunity— essential for all people and communities to thrive. And research shows that significant, lasting impact can be achieved for North Texas if two things happen:
- The number of students reading on grade level by third grade increases by 50%.
- Twice as many Black and Latinx students hit a certain level of scholastic achievement.
To help reach those benchmarks, United Way has put a number of programs in place. Over the next few years, we will continue to invest deeply in those programs and measure outcomes to adjust for improvement.
The Strong Start Initiatives provide families with children from birth to 8 years old access to free programs that promote safe and healthy environments, kindergarten readiness and early childhood literacy. There are five parts to this effort:
- HOPES (Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support): gives parents the instruction, resources and skills to create home environments where young children can thrive.
- Once Upon a Month: delivers age-appropriate children’s books to families each month to stimulate curiosity, language development and learning skills.
- TEA Recess: provides resources for child care centers to increase the quality of preschool programming and help ensure kids start kindergarten ready to learn.
- Texas Home Visiting Program: matches parents and soon-to-be parents with professionals who teach positive parenting strategies and how to prepare kids for kindergarten.
- Start Smart Texas: Sends twice-monthly texts to support parents in becoming confident first teachers for their children.
In addition, United Way is the Help Me Grow North Texas lead for Dallas and Collin counties. The 18-county collaborative launched in January with the goal of linking families to developmental screening pediatricians and other family support resources that help children develop and thrive.
“There are so many kids who show up at kindergarten who could have benefited from early childhood intervention services,” Sharp says. “If only their families had known that their children needed and could have qualified for developmental support before the age of 3, we could have helped. That’s what this program is about.”
All of these efforts reflect our belief that parents are experts on their children. Our goal is to equip parents to support their children though the most critical stages of brain development. Most parents don’t realize that 80 percent of brain development happens in a child’s first three years and 90 percent of the brain is developed by the time a child is 5 years old, Sharp says, which is where parent education and empowerment comes in.
“We want parents to understand the impact that they can have on their child’s success, and that starts with early intervention if needed, quality child care and kindergarten readiness,” Sharp says.
BEYOND HOME AND SCHOOL
Advocacy is another way we are working toward our Aspire United 2030 education goal of increasing by 50 percent the number of local students reading on grade level by third grade. In 2019, we worked to help get Texas House Bill 3 passed and we continue to support the implementation.
The Texas Education Agency called the bill “a sweeping and historic school finance bill” and “one of the most transformative Texas education bills in recent history.” Signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, it became a law providing more money for Texas classrooms and increases in teacher compensation, among other things.
North Texas residents can get involved to support United Way’s work in education. Here are a few ways to be part of the change:
- Join the Live United movement and sign on to our Aspire United 2030 community goals.
- Help United Way advocate for lasting educational change. Sign up for our advocacy alerts here.
- Make a donation to support programs like the ones mentioned above and empower more students to succeed.
This article was published on: Apr 15, 2021