As early as 18 months of age, children being raised in low-income households can begin to fall behind in vocabulary development and other skills critical for school success when compared to their more affluent peers. Parents play an enormous role in closing this gap, as do Early Learning professionals, pediatricians, and the broader community. In an effort to improve the outcomes for our most vulnerable children, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is working with Early Learning professionals from multiple locations throughout our region. Our intent is to determine shared aspirations for quality Early Learning in our region, and a plan for achieving them. Many of the professionals in this group met for the first time at our first meeting. Organizations and individuals have been working on improving the lives of our children throughout the Suncoast region, but sadly much of this work has been conducted in “silos” without a great deal of collaboration. I applaud this group for their desire to work together to make real and sustainable change in our region.
This topic isn’t easy, the work ahead of us will not be easy, but I believe it will be worthwhile. It is our dedication to changing the fact that four out of 10 children in our region are unable to read proficiently by the end of third grade that will propel us to success.
We are attempting to blend several different ‘worlds’ into a powerful collaborative. We have representatives from the world of two different school districts: the School District of Manatee County and Sarasota County Schools; the world of two different Early Learning Coalitions: Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County and Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County; the world of Head Start, the world of exceptional education, the world of Child Care, the world of VPK, the world of county government, the world of state government, the world of social service agencies, and the world of philanthropy.
We don’t know what we don’t know, and as a result, we are bound to step on each other’s toes a bit, and unknowingly say things that may cause offense. For example, I did not know the terms day care and pre-school can be offensive to child care professionals. I am grateful for the participants in the group who gently educated me. I’m certain our learning curve has just begun and I know each time we dare to share these truths our trust will grow stronger.
As we focus on how to improve our regional approach to Early Learning: zero to third grade, we must remember that outstanding work is currently being done in our region, and many of our children are thriving. Indeed, many communities would be satisfied with our current results. It is a real testimony to the outstanding level of Early Learning professionals in our region that we are not satisfied. We know we can do better, and we are willing to do the difficult work involved in real collaboration. We know not one of us can do this work alone. It is our collaboration, our willingness to look at things in new ways, and the humility everyone is bringing to the table in acknowledging that we do have room for improvement, that will make a difference for our children. The professionals gathered in this group each have a wealth of knowledge and many successes to share. As we combine “worlds” looking for our common aspirations and begin to communicate in new ways in order to lift up our children, we have a real opportunity to learn from each other and develop a level of trust that will propel us toward better outcomes for our children.