TN Legislators Get Back to Basics on Early Education

When a child shows up on the doorstep of a Tennessee school for the first time, there are many factors already at play that will influence how that child will perform. In Chattanooga, a diverse group of about 40 civic organizations have banded together in a community-wide campaign to raise awareness on early childhood development and make get children be school-ready on day one.

The Chattanooga Basics are five simple ways that families can help their children get off to the right start. The five approaches are designed to nurture growth of physical, social and emotional development for Chattanooga children so that they’re ready to be successful learners in kindergarten and beyond:

• Count, group and compare
• Read and discuss stories
• Talk, sing and point
• Explore through movement and play; and
• Maximize love and manage stress

“We’re focused on children ages zero to five by promoting a simple way for parents to interact with their children to develop cognitive growth,” said Dr. Jared Bigham, former executive director of Chattanooga 2.0, now with the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

Bigham showcased the Chattanooga Basics campaign in the February 21 Tennessee General Assembly Early Education Caucus (EEC) meeting that focused on school readiness.

Running what Bigham describes as a “saturation campaign,” Chattanooga 2.0’s outreach “started in the center of the urban core, going block to block, to barbershops, beauty salons, churches, business, health centers. It will keep going until we cover all of Hamilton County.”

The 40 civic stakeholders that include nonprofits, health providers, educators and business, began meeting every week. The campaign is visible everywhere – in print brochures, in videos available online and on mobile devices, and in organized outreach sessions with small and large groups of parents. They run a summer accelerated curriculum “Camp K” for kids who missed pre-k.

Our own TQEE Policy Director and early education expert, Lisa Wiltshire, says that this kind of awareness about development through an accessible program like “Five to Thrive” is crucial.

“The work that is happening with Chattanooga 2.0 is significant because they’re taking the definition of what it means for a child to be kindergarten ready and giving parents a list of things that they can do to prepare their child for success in school,” she says. “They have turned an elusive idea – readiness – into five easy – but important – steps parents, families, and caregivers can take to help children learn and grow.”

Senate Education Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), an EEC member, liked what she heard about Chattanooga Basics and indicated it could be a guide for other Tennessee communities. “This is the business of changing culture so that our children are successful in the long run,” she said. “We are beginning to see the enormity of what we are dealing with in our state. The long-term commitment for this is absolutely necessary.”

Two years ago, Chattanooga leaders began to study why the community’s high school and college grads were failing to meet the skill demands of area industry. The group conducted 3,600 interviews of local with teachers, parents, businesses and faith leaders to understand the problem. They observed a consistent student achievement deficiency throughout the learning continuum – that graduating high school students were not ready for college, that middle school schoolers were not ready for high school and elementary students were not ready for middle school.

“We found that the performance gap began in kindergarten,” Bigham said. “Children began behind and were caught in a constant cycle of catch up. Our approach is that we will get them ready for kindergarten so that they can remain on track.”

National data is clear: once students fall behind in third grade, they tend to stay behind or fall further in subsequent years. And unfortunately, the Chattanooga condition also mirrors TNReady assessment findings that most Tennessee students are not proficient in reading and math.

Reversing that trend has become a priority backed by state leaders in communities across Tennessee who recognize that improving early grade outcomes is the key to long-term learning success. Chattanooga’s ambitious outreach to win broader devotion to effective early development practices is a model that will produce results there and provide a model that other cities can follow.

Beyond ”Thank You”

We found this great article from PBS and thought you’d appreciate the useful tips and info – including how to make a gratitude jar!

According to the Harvard University Healthbeat, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

For young children, gratitude looks like consistently saying “thank you” to others, making thank you cards, and identifying things that make them feel thankful, such as a favorite toy or a visit from grandma.

Here are three quick and easy ideas on how to teach your young child to be thankful, and pave the way for their healthy, happy future!

  • Model Gratitude
  • Make a “Gratitude Jar”
  • Share “3 good things” Each Day

Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Lisa, Mike and the TQEE team

I did it!

Sometimes a picture says a lot.

Hunter is building a tower out of colored blocks with his mom and his friend Tevri at home. It’s a photo that was years in the making, in part because of his involvement in one of Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee’s most successful development programs.  The “I did it” badge he’s wearing reflects the confidence and accomplishment Hunter has experienced through his family’s participation in the program.

After she became pregnant, Hunter’s mother Tyne was referred by a friend to Healthy Families Tennessee, a home visiting program that provides weekly support for parents from pregnancy through when their child enters kindergarten. That’s how she met Tevri, a PCAT visitor.

“[Tevri] would just come once a week and she would go over where I should be at in my stage of pregnancy and just help me get ready for the baby,” Tyne says. “And then after Hunter was born, she would still come by on a weekly basis and teach me about his milestones.”

As Hunter got older, Tevri would mark his progress on everything from word acquisition to motor skills, often working with Hunter outside, drawing shapes with sidewalk chalk and mastering colors. The program provides what Tyne calls a “full spectrum,” helping her son master everything from letters and numbers, to recognizing emotions, to how to deal with them effectively.

Healthy Families is an evidence-based home visiting program (EBHV) that provides support during one of the most important periods in a child’s life, birth to age 5, when 80 percent of brain development occurs. Getting the right start is crucial, because healthy brain development is essential for later learning and health. Research on home visiting program shows it improves maternal, newborn and child health, reduces child maltreatment, improves parenting skills, improves school readiness.  And these programs are backed by compelling proof of a strong ROI: it gets returns of up to $5.70 in taxpayer savings for every $1 invested through reduction of costs for remedial education, child protection and criminal justice.

The program also gave Tyne and her spouse effective coping techniques, something she says she never learned growing up.

“We learned a lot of stuff as a family, but also my husband and I learned a lot as a couple,” she says. “The main focus was on being a healthy family as a whole, but it also helped me and my husband because, I’m sure you know, husbands and wives have stupid fights over stupid things.”

Hunter’s success in the program will lead to his graduation in December. Tyne says he’s currently on the letter “G” and in the advanced part of his daycare class, in part because of the leg up that Healthy Families Tennessee and Tevri gave him. As he approaches his fourth birthday, the Paw Patrol-obsessed Hunter even likes a little homework.

“It’s crazy, I know,” Tyne says. And then you begin to realize why he got the “I Did It” button in the photo.

The program has had such an impact that Tyne has even become an advocate for PCAT, speaking before the state legislature about her experiences.

“I actually highly suggest it to any of my friends that I know that are going to have a baby,” Tyne says. “I recommend it any time that I can because the benefits that we have received through Healthy Families have just been amazing, and I honestly, I don’t know where I would be at without the program.”

Today, Tennessee only supports programs like this in about half of our 95 counties.  We can do better!  Stay tuned for emails that let you know when and how to share your voice of support with our elected leaders!

By Mike, Lisa and the TQEE team

A Young Mother Learns to Help Her Baby Girl Thrive

Itzel is protective of her mother today, forgiving her with words even though she didn’t have the easiest childhood.

“My mom didn’t know any better and she definitely didn’t have anyone to turn to,” she says.

Itzel’s mother called her names and made her daughter feel unwanted and unloved. It’s tough to grow up strong when you are neglected and told that you are a burden.

As a young adult, Itzel found support four years ago at a community baby shower on the Tennessee State University campus. Newly pregnant and “completely scared,” she learned about Healthy Families, an evidence-based home visitation (EBHV) program from Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee (PCAT) designed to support parents from pregnancy through kindergarten.

Determined to be a better mother than her own, Itzel was attracted to an opportunity through Healthy Families to obtain strong parenting skills and to make certain her daughter has a bright future.

EBHV is nationally proven programming that is successfully applied in many Tennessee communities to assist young parents, improve their parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve health of parents and babies, and readly children for learning. EBHV is backed by compelling proof of strong ROI: a return of $5.70 in taxpayer savings for every $1 investment through reduction of costs for remedial education, public financial support, criminal justice and other societal impacts.

Through the course of her pregnancy, PCAT resources Nurturing Families and Healthy Families Tennessee provided in-home support that helped Itzel bond with her baby. Once a week, a PCAT representative came to Itzel’s house to help monitor her daughter’s progress, showing her how big Alia was growing while also counseling Itzel on what to expect once she arrived.

After Alia’s birth, the focus of Healthy Families turned more toward the young girl’s development, tracking progress and strengthening her bond with Itzel. For a new mother, every milestone presents challenges: Why is my baby crying? How will she learn to crawl? To walk? To speak? Dealing with development can be stressful and PCAT was there at every step along the way, from potty training to preparing Alia to begin school.

Through proven education and instruction from trained professionals, Itzel is now establishing a foundation for ongoing nurture of her child’s physical, cognitive and emotional development. The earliest years of a person’s life are foundational and long lasting.

Healthy Families is PCAT’s largest and most intensive program, intervening at a time in a child’s life when 80 percent of brain development occurs. This period is an essential building block for child success as it is fundamentally related to lifelong learning and health. .

The nonprofit uses the Growing Great Kids curriculum to teach a wide array of topics, including child safety and all aspects of development. The evidence-based program has been proven to improve maternal, newborn and child health as well as reduce child maltreatment. And for Alia, now 4 years old, it’s improved her readiness for school.

Itzel said the organization has made a difference in two lives.

“Without Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee and the support of my home visitor,” Itzel says, “I know that my relationship with Alia would have been exactly like what I had with my mom. And I’m so grateful that it’s not.”

Healthy Families helped again when Itzel met her husband Carlos, with a visitor helping the couple learn how to co-parent effectively, ensuring that Alia’s physical, social and emotional development continued.

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned from this program is how to develop trust between myself and Alia,” says Carlos. “I didn’t have that with my parents, and I think our relationship was negatively affected.”

The result of all of the time invested in Alia’s early years? She earned a scholarship to Overbrook School, a prestigious private elementary school in Nashville. Now she’s on a path for success with a strong home to support her.

Mike, Lisa and the TQEE Team

Tackling Tennessee’s Opioid Crisis Through Quality Early Learning Programs

Last week a group of Chattanooga leaders, including Mayor Andy Berke and U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann, along with TQEE coalition partners from business, law enforcement, military, nonprofit and faith communities, held a summit at the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce titled “Caring for Young Victims of the Opioid Crisis”. The purpose was to highlight the epidemic’s growing adverse impact on parents and young children and how quality early learning programs can help them cope.

In addition to the elected officials, speakers included:

At the event, which was organized by the Tennessee office of Council for a Strong America,  a new report was released outlining how early childhood programs are a critical part of the solution to Tennessee’s opioid epidemic.

Exposure to family opioid-addiction and other substance abuse is one of a litany of adverse childhood experiences, known as ACEs, that cause emotional trauma which can diminish young child brain development, future learning and health. When young children have access to high quality early childhood programs such as evidenced-based home visiting, quality childcare and pre-k, their brain development is positively impacted and the negative influence of ACEs is diminished.

As the impact of childhood trauma continues to permeate child-serving institutions, Tennessee’s teachers, social workers, pediatricians and caregivers are changing the way they interact with children who have been subjected to ACEs. Of the many techniques and programs developed to provide trauma-informed care, home visiting is among the most studied and evidence-based approaches to mitigating or preventing childhood trauma.

Not as many people know as much about home visiting programs as they do about other types of early education, so we thought we’d take a minute here to share some information about it.

Home visiting professionals visit families in their homes to coach parents on how to support their child’s healthy development as well as offer connections to additional community resources and services to meet their child’s health, developmental and learning needs.

This evidence-based solution has repeatedly proven to strengthen bonding between mothers and infants, improve parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve health of parents and babies, and ready children for their school years. There is also considerable evidence that home visiting generates strong ROI: investments in home visiting programs reduce negative societal impacts immediately and in the long run, in turn saving taxpayers substantial money by providing a return of up to $5.70 for every $1 invested.

Under the Haslam Administration, Tennessee has been supportive of home visiting administered through the Department of Health and supported by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. This year, Representative Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) and Senators Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) led legislative approval for an additional $1.4 million in recurring funding to boost the annual home visiting budget to $3.4 million.

The preservation and expansion of these vital programs is essential for Tennessee’s most vulnerable children and families, but there are still far too many families with no access to help. At the current level of funding, Tennessee is able to provide home visiting services to only 1.7% of the children who would qualify for services. And of the 95 counties in Tennessee, 45 counties have no home visiting services at all.

Adding to the urgent need for expanded home visiting is the efficacy of home visiting services to combat the negative consequences of the opioid epidemic. Arguably, no state is affected by the opioid scourge more than Tennessee where last year nearly 1,000 babies were born addicted to the drugs and where there are more opioid prescriptions in our state than there are Tennesseans. The opioid crisis affects every Tennessee community, causing damage to families and posing dangerous risk to the healthy development of young people. Expanded home visiting can be a potent complement to Governor Haslam’s Tennessee Together plan to fight opioids because it can mitigate ACEs stemming from the trauma of substance abuse and strengthen bonds between parents and their children.

As we highlighted in newspapers across Tennessee this past April, investing in home visiting is smart policy for Tennessee. TQEE and our coalition members are engaging General Assembly leadership and will work with Governor Haslam’s successor to advocate support for high quality early childhood programs, including evidenced-based home visiting, as a priority.

Mike, Lisa and the TQEE Team

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