Half of Kentucky’s children are not prepared for kindergarten, according to state data. And, when you look at Kentucky’s graduating class of 2016, only one-third of high school seniors reached benchmarks in math and science and only 39 percent earned or surpassed reading standards.
These are alarming statistics that demonstrate when kids start school behind, they often stay behind.
So, what if you could effectively eliminate the achievement gap at kindergarten? And, in doing so, also elevate parents to build workforce skills and gain employment or better jobs?
It would certainly take an innovative approach – one that involves parents and children learning together.
The good news is that innovation is closer than you think. Louisville-based National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) is leading the way with a proactive, results-oriented two-generation family literacy model that can be implemented in any community. NCFL originated family literacy nearly 30 years ago and its programs support and empower families to live their full potential, academically and economically. NCFL’s two-generation model works to eradicate poverty through education and literacy and focuses on serving under-skilled and under-employed adults and their children.
As Kentucky begins developing charter schools, this two-gen literacy model should be considered as a proven method of increasing success among vulnerable populations. We believe a charter-school model focused on family literacy is key to developing students who will succeed academically, while also allowing parents to improve their skills, get jobs or better jobs, be a better parent to their children, learn English if needed, raise more confident children, and strengthen the family bond.
Take, for example, Briya Charter School in Washington D.C., a school that uses the NCFL model of two-generation learning. While more than half of Briya’s preschool students entered below expectations, data shows 97 to 100 percent met or exceeded those expectations upon leaving the program, effectively eliminating the achievement gap by the time they entered kindergarten.
That’s huge, especially when you consider the uphill battle parents and children faced. At Briya, 97 percent of families live in poverty and adult students in entry-level English classes have, on average, just six years of previous education. Despite these circumstances, the model gave parents the skills to work with their children and effectively eliminate the achievement gap.
From NCFL’s perspective, Briya is an excellent example of how an innovative approach engages parents and children to impact the family as a whole. Not only do parents and children come to school to learn together, but they leave with the necessary skills to do well in school and in life.
In Briya’s program, parents learn English, practical technology and parenting skills. At the same time, their young children prepare for future school success in infant, toddler and preschool classes right across the hall.
The result – parents and children do not remain in separate silos. Instead, they come together at least once a week for intentional family learning, known as Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time, a defining element of NCFL’s family literacy programs.
At Briya, after learning about a topic related to children’s development, parents go into their child’s classroom to put their learning immediately into action during PACT Time. Guided by the early childhood teachers, parents practice interactive activities with their children that they can later replicate at home.
For example, after learning how helping children express their emotions enables them to work successfully with others in school, a parent goes into her child’s preschool classroom to play a guessing game of acting out feelings and discussing what makes people feel that way. Or, after learning how children develop early literacy skills, a parent goes into her toddler’s classroom and does a scavenger hunt for letters of the child’s name—a game they can later play on their walk to school.
Like D.C., Kentucky’s charter-school law includes strict standards and accountability measures put in place to ensure the schools truly meet the needs of the students they serve. We believe it is in the Commonwealth’s best interest to utilize the family literacy model that was pioneered right here in Kentucky.
We see it this way: charter schools with a focus on family literacy could be a new tool for Kentucky families to pull themselves out of poverty and improve their lives. That’s something that can change families for generations to come.
Sharon Darling is founder and president of the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL). Since 1989, NCFL has helped more than 2 million families make educational and economic progress by pioneering—and continuously improving—family literacy and family learning programs. Learn more at www.familieslearning.org.