Closing that gap is part of the work being undertaken by the Four Schools Project in South Carolina, US, coordinated by the Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM).
SAM is working with the four highest-poverty schools in the county: Jesse Bobo and Lone Oak elementary schools in Spartanburg District 6, and Mary H. Wright Elementary and the Cleveland Academy of Leadership in District 7, to address the issue of early-childhood education among numerous others affecting students and families dealing with poverty, goupstate.com wrote.
“Everything we’re learning and have learned about brain science over the past 15 years or so tells us you can’t wait until 4k,” said John Stockwell, executive director of SAM.
“One of the (major) solutions is 4k for everybody, which is great, but what happens even before 4k?”
Before the 2017-18 school year, 61 percent of the South Carolina’s 4-year-old students, or 34,449 in total, lived in poverty and were at risk of not being ready for kindergarten, according to an S.C. Education Oversight Committee report.
SAM and the schools involved in the Four Schools Project are working to get as many students into education at ages 3 and 4 as possible.
In District 6, the youngest students can attend the district’s Child Development Center.
District 7 is home to the Early Learning Center at Park Hills, where about half of Mary H. Wright Elementary students go before finding their way to the Church Street school, said Principal Marc Zachary.
Zachary said one of the biggest hurdles children in poverty face is the lack of language they’re exposed to at an early age.
“Research shows students don’t hear as much language when they come from situations of poverty. We’ve got children coming in hearing millions of fewer words than children coming in from backgrounds that aren’t as poverty-stricken,” he said.
“So, they come in behind, so you’re playing catch-up. Not all. You’ve got some that are right on (grade level) and some that are above. It’s not as easy as: ‘Oh, we’ll catch them up in nine weeks.’”
The lack of language skills developed during early childhood is a common point of focus among the principals of the four schools.
Fred Logan, principal of Cleveland Academy, coined the term ‘lap gap’ to describe the phenomenon.
“The reason I call it a ‘lap gap’ is because, when you were a small child, you were sitting on someone’s lap and they were reading to you and when a word would show up that you didn’t understand, you’d have conversations about that word and what it means,” he said.
“If you don’t have that opportunity, then that gap is being created. Kids from other places are learning and building vocabulary, whereas children from poverty might not have that opportunity.”
Several of the principals said early intervention efforts — getting educators involved with children as early as possible to learn of any learning disorders or gaps in education — is key to setting students up on a path to success.
“We believe in getting them in the door as soon as possible. We (luckily) have the Child Development Center in District 6,” said Catherine Pogue, principal of Jesse Bobo Elementary.
“That’s an avenue to get those 3-and 4-year-olds starting off with their academics and education as early as possible.”
Although she doesn’t attend one of the schools involved in the Four Schools Project, Emree Belknap, a kindergarten student, is a beneficiary of early intervention efforts.
Caroline Belknap, Emree’s mother, said her daughter, who goes to High Point Academy, was found to have diminished hearing shortly after she was born.
“I wouldn’t have had a clue she had hearing loss problems if it wasn’t for that. And then, kindergarten and everything after would’ve been so much harder,” Caroline said.
“But now, she speaks and she’s in a normal kindergarten class and doing great.”
A program called BabyNet helped Caroline outfit Emree with a hearing aid. The hearing aid was followed by speech therapy to make sure language difficulties weren’t as severe by the time Emree got to school.
For children living in poverty, those kind of interventions can be tough to find.
Parents may have trouble finding the appropriate resources and an even harder time affording those services.
Kim Atchley, SAM communications director, said it’s important for school staff to work closely with parents so they know to devote time, even a small amount, to reading to and speaking with their children.
“If a parent is stressing over, ‘are we going to have a roof over our heads next week,’ they may be less inclined to really sit down and drop into that quality time with their children,” she said.
Reading to or reading with a child can significantly improve their ability to pick up reading in a classroom setting.
Lone Oak Elementary Principal Keith Burton said parent involvement when it comes to literacy can be a major building block for education
“We know that early literacy is very, very important. If we can get students with a great foundation early on, then they have a greater chance at being successful in school and matriculate through our system,” he said.
Zachary said much of the day for Mary H. Wright Elementary’s youngest students is spent on literacy.
With teachers and six assistants available for four classes, students practice reading, writing and holding conversations with each other and adults.
SAM is working with staff at each of the four schools to implement curriculum based on the idea of continuous improvement. The philosophy strives for consistently higher achievement rates across all student groups and ages.