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Providence’s Grade-Level Reading Work Group is one of the work groups organized by the Providence Children and Youth Cabinet (CYC), Providence’s cradle-to-career initiative. Subcommittees focus on issues and programming, specifically increasing awareness, influencing policy, increasing quality, and incubating innovation across three age spans – birth to age 3, age 3-5, and K-3 . Providence has made advances in attendance through the careful development of high-functioning attendance teams, and in summer learning through a new pilot grounded in rigorous self-assessment. Providence's mayor also supports a culture of early childhood innovation, partnering with health professionals and business leaders to help Providence's children.
Providence launched an attendance awareness campaign along with corresponding changes in programming. The coalition asked itself "What does a good attendance team look like?" Using research and best practices, the coalition assembled a cross-disciplinary group that included community program providers, social workers, nurses, and school personnel. Then they asked the same question about tools, and created a step-by-step attendance team toolkit draft for guidance and reference, with the help of Hedy Chang from Attendance Works. The toolkit draft includes who should be on the team (depending on whether the team is concentrated on elementary, middle, or high school students), how often a team should meet, and other logistics. The Providence Public Schools Communications office and the CYC also developed a suite of seven posters, which are being posted all over the City and disseminated via social media to raise awareness about the importance of attendance across the City.
The attendance teams launched last winter, and though it has been hard at times to get going and figure out roles, on the whole the venture has been a success. There was a significant decrease in chronic absence at all pilot schools of between 4 and 10 percentage points, and now the team is investigating expansion to other schools in Providence and throughout Rhode Island. Current priorities are building capacity in Providence, to build a strong base for expansion, and making the team structure and programming easily replicable.
The Grade-Level Reading Work Group also took a look at the City’s summer learning opportunities and determined that they were scattered, and needed to be reevaluated according to standard indicators of quality summer programming. They had one organization, Inspiring Minds, which ran a summer program for 4 weeks, 4 days a week, 4 hours a day, with a purely academic focus. The coalition decided to expand this program and use it as a pilot for quality summer programming.
To do so, they brought in other program providers to partner with the first organization and expand the offerings and program duration. Kids went on exploratory field trips under the auspices of the Greater Providence YMCA, got swimming lessons from the Boys and Girls Club, and received enriching play-based literacy programs through collaborations with the Providence Children’s Museum and the Providence Community Libraries. With no additional resources, the 50 student pilot was up and running. After a rigorous assessment, they found kids in the 6/5/6 program made significant reading and math increases- more than were made in the 4/4/4 program. Currently they are working on analyzing the details and planning for expansion, addressing such questions as what worked, what didn't, and how can the program be scaled.
Providence's mayor, Angel Taveras, has been a major supporter of early education and often tells his own story of going “from Head Start to Harvard through the Providence Public Schools.” For the Mayor's innovation challenge, he proposed a tool to address and minimize the 'word gap' between high- and low-income children. The device that will be used counts words said, words heard, and the different turns a conversation makes, somewhat like a 'word pedometer'. This program, called Providence Talks, will be deployed this spring in home visiting programs and used to help parents monitor and advance their child's language development. The mayor also brought together a business roundtable, which has highlighted the need to engage more business leaders around financing early interventions.