The Optimistic Futurist: A brighter beginning for ‘at risk’ kids
By Francis P. Koster
As we think about the future of our country, two numbers provide a major hint of things to come. The first number, 13 percent, is the national unemployment rate for those who did not finish high school. The other number is 4 percent, the national unemployment rate for those who graduate college.
It is easy to predict which category a child will wind up in. You give them a specific seven-minute test in prekindergarten. If they flunk, they are in trouble unless something is done.
It does not matter if this child suffers from a condition like dyslexia, as does 1 in 10 Americans, or grew up in a home with no books and parents who do not read to them. If they cannot pass the seven-minute test, they may be in serious trouble of being economically handicapped for the rest of their life.
Nationally, when prekindergartners are tested, around 1 out of every 4 flunks the test.
To give you some idea of the seriousness of the situation, according to the Begin To Read organizationís research, 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate; more than 60 percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate, and more than 70 percent of inmates in Americaís prisons cannot read above a fourth-grade level.
Clearly, failure to read was a banana peel on the steps of life, causing pain and suffering for those who fall, and the ones they hurt on the way down.
Think of the enormous good to individuals and society that could occur if someone figured out how to take those 1 in 4 kids who flunk the test and taught them a few simple tricks so that they had a reasonable shot at finishing high school.
Someone did ó and it is cheap, easy to replicate and proven to be effective. But it is not yet widely used.
The Nemours Childrenís Clinics, based in Jacksonville, Fla., did several years worth of research to find out how bad the problem was. They gave a screening test to a bunch of kids. About 1 out of 4 had real problems. The screening test had a possible score of 20. The ěnormalî kids scored around 14; the ěat riskî kids scored around 6.5.
The Nemours project staff developed 18 short lessons that taught the ěat riskî kids specific skills to help them learn to read. They called it Nemours BrightStart! These skills were taught in short lessons to groups of two to four kids over a nine-week period. That is all that was done. The ballpark cost per ěat riskî child was $100.
In a stunning success story, two-thirds of the ěat riskî kids caught up to the ěnormal kids.î And the other third, including children with Downís Syndrome and all sorts of brain-wiring problems, made great progress ó and will live happier lives as a result. A huge success!
This success has been proven to endure. After four years of rigorous analysis, the staff can proudly say that the kids who flunked the test but took the special training program maintained strong reading skills through third grade. They are able to read at the same level as the kids who passed the test in the first place. Their life is changed forever.
The Nemours BrightStart! program has thus far screened more than 14,000 children and provided the extra teaching for over 3000 of them. More than 200 classroom teachers have been trained to use the teaching materials, and many more are in the pipeline. The project is currently operational in multiple counties in Florida and Delaware, and pilot efforts are starting in Louisiana and Maryland.
What an astounding role model program for the rest of the country!
Find more information about the program at www.nemours.org/brightstart. The teaching materials are available through Kaplan Early Learning Company.
When we look at our current problems, it is sometimes difficult to find hopeful things to cling to. Here is one. The developmental work is done, and the program can be implemented for a one time investment around $100 per ěat riskî child. It works, and it will make a huge contribution to our children, and building a better nation in our future.
What are you going to do now?
Francis P. Koster, Ed. D., lives in Kannapolis. For other articles and more information, visit www. TheOptimisticFuturist.org.
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