A first of its kind initiative designed to close the "thirty-million word gap" and ensure Providence children enter kindergarten ready to learn.
Mayor Angel Taveras announced today the launch of "Providence Talks," an innovative, new intervention program designed to boost early childhood literacy development and raise the percentage of students who enter kindergarten ready for academic success.
"I am thrilled to be launching Providence Talks with our first cohort of families," said Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. "My administration has been focused on improving educational outcomes from my first day in office, and Providence Talks will help us ensure that more of our young people enter a Providence kindergarten classroom ready for success."
Providence Talks will start this week with an initial pilot phase that serves approximately 75 families. The pilot will be evaluated in real time by Brown University so that lessons learned about how to make the intervention most effective can be incorporated into the program prior to expansion. The program seeks to grow to approximately 500 families in 2014 and 2,000 eligible families by mid-2016.
Research shows that children growing up in low-income households hear approximately 30 million fewer words than children growing up in middle-income and affluent families by the time they reach their fourth birthday.
Providence Talks is the first municipality-driven initiative designed to measure and close this gap with participating families. Families that qualify and volunteer for the program will receive a specialized "word pedometer" that counts the number of words and conversational interactions the participating child engages in over the course of an entire day.
The word counts and related measures are compiled into simple auditory environment feedback reports. Participants will receive one year of in-home visitation services where trained educators will share the reports and provide coaching on specific vocabulary building exercises.
Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge Grand Prize Winner
Providence Talks was the grand prize winner - chosen out of 304 other compelling submissions - in the 2012-2013 Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayors Challenge, a national competition for innovative ideas designed to solve major challenges and improve city life. Providence was presented a $5 million implementation award in addition to a commemorative model by world-renowned designer Olafur Eliasson, now on display at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art.
"Providence's approach to reducing the achievement gap in our cities - which will improve academic outcomes by increasing children's exposure to vocabulary at a young age, simply by helping their families understand what their child is hearing and coaching them on how to improve - has the potential to fundamentally change public policy when it comes to early childhood education," said philanthropist and 108th Mayor of New York City, Michael R. Bloomberg. "Providence Talks stood out as the winning idea in last year's Mayors Challenge due to this innovative and replicable approach."
The LENA Research Foundation, the developer of the Digital Language Processor (DLP) and associated software being used in the program, has donated its full participation in Providence Talks, including all equipment, software and staff time.
"LENA Research Foundation's purpose is to develop advanced technology and programs to accelerate language development of children in those critical first few years, and our data-driven approach is perfectly aligned with the goals of Providence Talks," said Terry Paul, chairman and co-founder of the LENA Research Foundation. "We feel privileged to have this opportunity to gift our support and join with the City of Providence and Bloomberg Philanthropies to make Providence Talks successful, replicable, scalable and a model for the nation."
Providence is also partnering with two Rhode Island-based nonprofit social service agencies, Children's Friend and Meeting Street, to deliver the Providence Talks pilot program. During the pilot phase, Children's Friend and Meeting Street will provide Providence Talks to families already enrolled in their Early Head Start home visitation programs.
Children's Friend President and CEO David Caprio said, "Providence Talks will expand Children's Friend's ability to support the healthy development of families with young children in Providence. Children's Friend has been working with Rhode Island families to address the issues of poverty, language barriers, educational attainment, substance abuse and health care access since 1834."
Meeting Street President and CEO John Kelly added, "We're excited to be partnering with Providence Mayor Angel Taveras in taking on the important issue of early childhood literacy development with the families in Meeting Street's network. For more than 65 years, Meeting Street has delivered on its vision of compassionately and innovatively empowering children and their families to develop healthy and successful young people."
Providence Talks will be led by Gail Agronick Ph.D., and will receive advice and direction by a national advisory board still in development. More information on the Providence Talks program is available on www.providencetalks.org.
About Bloomberg Philanthropies
Bloomberg Philanthropies' mission is to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: Public Health, Environment, Education, Government Innovation and the Arts. Bloomberg Philanthropies' encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg's charitable activities, including his foundation and his personal giving. In 2013, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $452 million. For more information on the philanthropy, please visit bloomberg.org.
About the LENA Research Foundation
The LENA Research Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity based in Boulder, Colorado. Its mission is to help close the achievement gap by developing advanced technology and programs to accelerate language development of children from birth to five years old and for research and treatment of language delays and disorders. For more information on the foundation, please visit lenafoundation.org.