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School Readiness – A Neighborhood Priority

Author: Rebecca Lindgren, Marketing Communications Director, Helios Education Foundation

On Wednesday mornings, young children and their parents walk through the door of Make Way for Books (MWFB)  in Tucson, Arizona, in great anticipation of who they will meet that day.  On the day I visited, Teacher Thania, introduced them to “Playful Little Penguins.”  As she read the bouncy rhyme book, Teacher Thania acted out how the penguins slide, swim, dive and splash as they play together in the snow.  Children from 8 months through 4 years old were captivated as Teacher Thania brought this book to life.    

 Each week, MWFB, hosts Storytime for families.  The goal is to inspire a love of reading in children by engaging them in literacy activities involving books, puppets, songs and movement.  On the day I was there, Teacher Thania brought penguins to life and involved the children, and their parents, in the story.  She made it come alive for them in a way that was exciting, engaging and energetic. 

According to the campaign for grade-level reading,  a child’s vocabulary at age three can predict third grade reading achievement.   The quality and quantity of language that children hear in their first three years contributes to their cognitive development, and the interactions children have with language in their earliest years form the foundation of their ability to be able to read and to comprehend what they read later on.

MWFB, a Helios partner,  is focused on giving giving all children the chance to read and succeed.   MWFB fosters the success of children through cultivating the love of books and reading.

“If education is the route to more equal opportunities and success, early literacy is the key to that door,” said Jenny Volpe, Executive Director, Make Way for Books.  “We seek to help make the difference between a child struggling to read or enjoying a great book; falling behind or graduating high school; trying to make ends meet or becoming a community leader.”

However the reality is that too often, poverty plays a role in educational opportunities. In Tucson, Arizona, 39% of children (birth-5) live in poverty and are in danger of falling behind before they even enter kindergarten. Nearly 7 of 10 economically-disadvantaged young children are not on track in their cognitive development when they start kindergarten.   As a result, MWFB, focuses its efforts on low-income communities.   

For sixteen years, MWFB has provided and sustained early literacy programming impacting more than 250 early childhood education programs and more than 31,000 children, families, and early childhood educators each year. 

Also, recognizing that coordination and alignment among community partners is critical to a strong early childhood education system,  MWFB is an integral partner in Southern Arizona’s effort to ensure quality in early childhood education and is committed to helping build an early childhood system that is a bridge to the K-3 system. In addition to beginning and leading the early literacy work in community-based preschool and early childhood education programs sixteen years ago, MWFB has also helped to pioneer innovative strategies with respect to family literacy and meeting the unmet early literacy needs for children who do not have access to the early childhood system.

One example is the Neighborhood School Readiness Collaborative.   This collaborative coordinates and combines all of MWFB’s programs in 12 high-need neighborhoods. The comprehensive MWFB Preschool Program is provided to every early childhood education program around the Tucson Unified School District’s (TUSD) elementary schools.  They reach families in the neighborhood who do not have access to early childhood education programs through the Raising A Reader and Cover to Cover programs at apartment complexes and other community locations in each neighborhood. In addition, MWFB provides a connection to the elementary schools children will attend in the future by providing Raising A Reader and other evidence-based family literacy programming at partner TUSD schools. During the school day, parents and other caregivers with children, birth to five, who are not in preschool meet at the school for early literacy programming each week. Each year, 2,500 children are impacted through the project. Over the three year project, more than 7,500 children will walk into their neighborhood schools ready to read and succeed when they start kindergarten.

“Helios is a proud partner of the Neighborhood School Readiness Collaborative,”  said Karen Ortiz, Vice President and Program Director, Helios Education Foundation.  “This approach helps build the kind of system that communities need to help young children thrive.  Helping to build strong literacy skills before the child enters the school system, is critical so that they will be on track to read at grade level by the end of third grade.” 

And when you see a child’s face light up as they are pretending to dance in the snow like penguins, you realize that, to them, developing strong literacy skills is just plain fun. 

Category: 10 Year Anniversary

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