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Early learning programme expanded to five new US cities

A major charity is helping five US cities run an early-years education scheme which supports language development to get children ‘school-ready’.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, one of the USA’s largest foundations, is providing almost $12million USD for rolling out the project, Providence Talks, in Birmingham (Alabama), Detroit (Michigan), Hartford (Connecticut), Louisville (Kentucky) and Virginia Beach (Virginia).

Providence Talks was the inaugural Grand Prize Winner of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge, an innovation competition aimed at cities which aim to better themselves with bold, creative ideas that address pressing challenges and have the most potential for impact and – crucially – the potential to share their good practice with other cities.

‘Crucial factor in building vocabulary’

Families are given a small recording device, a ‘talk pedometer’, which counts adult words spoken in the presence of a child, plus the number of ‘conversational interactions’ involving a child during a normal day. Research shows that exposing youngsters – from birth to age four – to words and conversation is a crucial factor in building vocabulary and developing the brain.

Michael R Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and the 108th Mayor of New York City, said: “Providence Talks shows just why we launched the Mayors Challenge: to help cities take on big challenges, test innovative ideas, and then spread what works best. Providence Talks has had promising results, helping thousands of young children increase their language development. Today, we’re glad to help five new cities adapt the program and work to achieve similar progress.”

Children made ‘significant gains’

Brown University evaluated Providence Talks, and found that children who participated in the programme made ‘significant gains’ in the number of adult words they heard and turns they took in conversations and in language development.

The largest gain were seen in children who started the furthest behind. These youngsters averaged a 51 per cent rise in the number of adult words they hear daily, up from an average of 8,000 to over 12,000 words a day. By the end of the programme, children showed, on average, a 15 percentile point increase in the Developmental Snapshot score, the tool used to measure a child’s development progress (or language skills).

Professor Kenneth Wong, who led the Brown University study, said: “Our evaluation shows positive program effects that promise to disrupt the learning gap on a city-wide scale. Providence Talks not only improved the auditory environment at home but also contributed to parent efficacy, factors that will support student success.”

‘Profound effect on our city’

Jorge O. Elorza, the Mayor of Providence, the initial pilot city, added: “Providence Talks has had a profound effect in our city by empowering parents and placing children on a supportive path to educational success. By proactively providing tools and assistance to families in need we are closing the word gap and ultimately the achievement gap. Our innovative program reflects our belief that investing in our children is the greatest investment we can make for our future and we’re thrilled that other cities are interested in replicating it.”

Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in more than 500 cities and 129 countries around the world, aiming to help ensure the greatest number of people live better, longer lives. It focuses on five key areas: education, the arts, environment, government innovation and public health. It will roll out Providence Talks through its What Works Cities platform.

Author: Simon Weedy

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