Sharon Weston Broome promised last year during her successful campaign for mayor-president of East Baton Rouge that she would expand the help available to families with young children from the first days of life.
On Monday, eight months on the job, Broome held a press conference Monday to flesh out what she’s calling her “Cradle to K” initiative.
The initiative is starting with a new Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/C2KBR/, launched earlier this month. The page opens with a video of Broome discussing the initiative. The page, Broome said, is to serve as a hub where parents of young children can connect and learn from more experienced parents.
“Cradle to K really works to help parents create the stable and enriched environments that their children need to be prepared for success in kindergarten,” Broome said.
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Broome noted Monday two other efforts that are part of the launch of the initiative:
– Directing more young and pregnant women to take advantage of existing home visitation programs, such as the well regarded Nurse Family Partnership.
– Persuading more adults to help prekindergarten children in Baton Rouge learn how to read via Volunteers In Public Schools' EveryBody Reads program.
Public education has taken its place alongside traffic, crime, and flood recovery in the fro…
Flanked by members of a task force advising her on early childhood matters, Broome said she’s long been aware of the importance of early childhood education, but didn’t realize how important it was to start from the day of birth. That changed three years ago when she talked with researchers from Tulane University. That experience, she said, “really heightened my concerns and really motivated me and inspired me to do more.”
Many children reach kindergarten unprepared. Broome noted that 52 percent of children in the East Baton Rouge school system, which operates more than 80 public schools in the Capital City, start kindergarten already behind in their literacy skills.
“Fundamentally, research has shown children who enter kindergarten behind are more likely to stay behind, and so to me this is a very alarming concern that affects not only families, but our entire community,” Broome said.
Improved early childhood education could change that. Research suggests that high quality preschool has the best potential return on investment of any education reform. Consequently, mayors and governors across the country have launched expensive and far reaching early education efforts in hopes of reaping the benefits suggested by the research.
Cradle to K is not so ambitious. Even though the initiative is under the city-parish’s Head Start program, Broome is not committing to expanding Head Start, or Early Head Start, which works with toddlers, up to the age of three.
The mayor-president hinted, though, that she’s looking for money to do more than the status quo. She noted that in Louisiana only about 5,000 children under the age of four benefit from public preschool, while thousands more could benefit from such programs.
“This told me we have to be creative and innovative to leverage other funding sources, as well as create different programs,” Broome said.
The new Cradle To K Facebook includes several testimonial videos from the parents of young children with advice for other parents, with titles such as “"It's OK To Ask For Help" and “Consistency Helps Kids Feel Safe & Secure."
The most popular video, titled "How to Teach Your Toddler Responsibility That Will Prepare Them For Kindergarten," features Toccara Sept, a former kindergarten teacher who started a day care in Baker last year. It had more than 1,000 views Monday.
Sept told The Advocate that she switched to running a day care after deciding that she needed to start working with children at a younger age.
“I just got tired of children coming to me not knowing how to spell their name,” Sept said.
A mother herself of two young children, Sept said she’s constantly hunting for helpful parenting videos. She said it’s helpful for parents to realize that they are not alone in their troubles.
“Sometimes you think, “Am I the only one dealing with this?,” Sept said. “Every parent thinks their child is weird.”
Educational consultant Will Minton is serving as the project manager for Cradle to K. A veteran schoolteacher, Minton said he realized the power of parent videos and social media last year when he worked with an early childhood initiative in Pointe Coupee Parish.
He said the videos and subsequent parent interaction harness the collective knowledge of parents.
“Too often these types of programs only view parents and families as recipients,” he said. “But with Cradle to K, the knowledge and insights of parents already in the community are really the central force.”
Beyond connecting parents, Minton said he hopes the Facebook page will also help connect early childhood groups.
“Currently there are a number of different organizations doing work for families and small children but they are largely working in silos,” he said. “Cradle to K is an opportunity to bring them together to find more opportunities for collaboration.”