Meeting their potential

September 27, 2017  //  United Way

Development doesn’t begin and end at school. It’s not a light switch – learning is a continuum that extends far beyond the school bus seat. In that way, every aspect of the home, and every moment spent in it, is crucial in seeing each child’s mind expand and develop to its fullest potential.

But how do you determine if a child is meeting their potential, especially in early childhood? “One of the biggest predictors of early development,” says Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) Associate Superintendent for Instruction, Dr. Jane Stavem, “is language.” Teachers and administrators look for what Stavem calls “letter-sound recognition” in those early years, their ability to read and recognize words, to put sentences together, and for overall fluency and comprehension.

It’s key, then, that parents do what they can to create a better learning environment at home. Yet some simply lack the resources or information to do so and may not even realize it. “We are finding that often our youngest children are not experiencing what we would call a language-rich experience,” Stavem tells us, “where they are being spoken to or read to at the rate that’s required for them to acquire language and vocabulary and meaning.” And that’s troubling. “You might assume that parents know those skills,” notes Dr. Stavem. “When we find that they may not we’re able to provide books and other materials to aid them.” These materials are provided through organizations like the Families Learning Program (FLP). “People make the assumption,” she adds, “that every house has a shelf full of books at the right age level for a child, be it a baby or toddler all the way up through chapter books, and that reading is encouraged, language is encouraged, in every home. And that’s just not the case.”

To make matters more pressing, there’s an early-developmental window for kids and it closes faster than some of us might think. “By third grade,” says Stavem, “if a student isn’t reading at an appropriate rate or level of proficiency, it’s going to be very, very difficult to continue helping remediate the skill deficit,” though it can be done. However, unless there’s early intervention, students who fall behind are always going to be coming from a point of disadvantage.

Thankfully, LPS and their partners are more than equipped to meet these challenges. “We’ve had great partnerships with our communities,” expressed Stavem, ”where our public libraries and organizations like United Way have stepped in to provide resources. The whole community is focused on those types of initiatives, and we’re very appreciative of that because you can’t assume that happens in every city or setting.”

Apart from resources, a key situational factor for many students is one of student mobility—moving between schools. LPS and their partners are there to help. “One of the things we try to do when students have moved residences,” Stavem tells us, “is provide transportation so they can stay at their home school… and we know that provides continuity.”

And that’s really what intervention is all about. It’s finding the gaps in a student’s progression, wherever they might be, and taking direct action. Whether it’s detection through formative assessments, remediation through programs like FLP, providing ELL services if students and families are acquiring English as a second language, or the aid of district-wide philosophies of how to support students in school like PBIS (the Positive Behavior in School model), Stavem says it’s about “putting all of those pieces together.”

In all, and no matter the circumstances, we want to remind you that there are always answers out there and always something that can be done. “Parents just want to do the best for their children. We want to make sure every parent is equipped to be able to do that,” Stavem told us. “When there are some areas where they need some supports, we want to make sure that we’re able to step in and give them the supports that they need.”