The Health Determinants in Early Learning Conference held in Washington, D.C., on November 16–17 was a great example of the power of “sharing the cookies in the cookie jar.” The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a national program with over 285 communities striving to move the needle in three solution areas: the big goal — all children reading proficiently by the end of third grade. Gatherings, such as the one in Washington, are one of the powerful benefits of participating in a national movement. Communities from all over the nation met with content experts to learn about and share best practices.
This particular conference had the subtitle, “Leveraging Medicaid for Impact.” We heard from pediatricians, policy makers, innovators, and funders, each of them stepping outside their silo to share their successes and challenges freely. Equally important, we had the opportunity to connect with other communities who are striving to make a real difference for our most vulnerable kids. This open sharing sparked questions, discussions, and ideas. Many presenters commented on the palpable feeling of hope, and the positivity of the group.
There were many highlights during the two-day conference. Dayna Long, M.D., from the Center for Community Health and Engagement at UCSFs Beniott Children’s Hospital, shared with us the “Cultural Humility” model the Center has embedded in their interactions with each other, and the families they serve. We heard from Vikki Wachino, from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, about the need for our communities to pull together to advocate for our children and families. Anne Mosle, of The Aspen Institute, shared Aspen Ascend’s Two-Generation Approach and how it intersects with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Joan Alker, from the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, shared information about Medicaid, stressing that Medicaid is a children’s program. Over half the births in the United States are currently covered by Medicaid. The knowledge presented was dense, and the ideas shared sparked conversation and action.
We were urged by all of the panelists to be brave and innovative in the ways we take the knowledge they presented back to our own communities. We were reminded that in order to lift our children up to the success they deserve, we will have to create new ways of operating. We must blend and braid programming to take us beyond outstanding programs to real, sustainable, systemic change. We have to share, communicate, and share some more.
This is going to mean creating and maintaining new partnerships. Communicating, listening deeply to parents and providers, looking for common aspirations and then moving rapidly to action. Nationwide, 80% of the children raised in low-income families are not able to read proficiently by the end of third grade. We can change that by working together and sharing the “Cookies in the Cookie-jar”.