Southern Tier school readiness program a success, so far

Oct 16, 2012

The research on this is pretty clear: between the ages one and five, the human brain develops faster than at any other time. In Chemung County, a project called the School Readiness Project sends nurses to the hospital whenever a baby is born.

From day one, they offer new parents help, including home visits, and offer assistance on nutrition or with post-partum depression, whatever might come up.

And according to Ken Robin, a researcher at University at Albany, the project is proving successful. Robin analyzed the data collected once the project’s first group of kindergarteners had reached school age.

'A remarkable finding'

“Coming at it strictly from a numbers perspective, it’s a remarkable finding, one of the more remarkable that I’ve seen,” says Robin.

In 2007, only 47 percent of five-year-olds were ready for school; in 2011, that number jumped to 68 percent.

Robin says that the results have to be replicated and this first class needs to be tracked as they grow up. But he says that, so far, the results are positive across the board.

“It was seen across all the different domains in terms of language ability, science, behavior control, social skills, so it was a fairly robust finding,” says Robin.

The School Readiness Project

The School Readiness Project was started in 2006. Funding came from the Community Foundation of Elmira-Corning and the Finger Lakes and from Chemung County. They contributed $1 million each over five years.

Community Foundation Executive Director Randi Hewit [Disclosure: Hewit is also the vice-chair of the board of trustees at member station WSKG] says the idea is to make it easier for new parents to access the public services that already exist. And to show parents the simple things that can be done to help a child’s development.

“Helping families see that when you’re at the grocery store and you’re talking to your child and you’re pointing out the color red to them and you’re saying, 'look, this green broccoli, broccoli begins with b, ba, ba, ba,' you’re helping them learn to read down the road,” says Hewit.

She says the project began after receiving a large donation that could be spent on any community issue. So Hewit went out and interviewed people about what they thought $1 million should be spent on.

“And over and over again people said to me, 'I would really work with young children, I would look at early childhood because you can make a difference in early childhood,'” says Hewit.

That led her to Carl Hayden, the former chancellor of the New York state Board of Regents who lives in Elmira. Hayden recommended that she focus in on pre-k development.

Continuing funding

Hayden became a director of the project and says he is amazed by its early results. He says the project could be replicated elsewhere and would, in the end, save governments money.

“It is costing us approximately $400 per child per year. And that kind of money is within the budget of any community, even the most distressed community,” says Hayden.

He points to the huge amounts of money spent on kids who fall behind in school, get held back or eventually drop out.

According to Randi Hewit, now that they have their first results, the foundation plans to keep funding the project. The county has said the same. But she adds that it won’t work if the state cuts back on funding for all the services that are combined to make the project work.

For more from the Innovation Trail and Matt Richmond, visit their website.

The Innovation Trail is a collaboration between six upstate New York public media outlets. The initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), helps the public gain a better understanding of the connection between technological breakthroughs and the revitalization of the upstate New York economy.