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The Chattanooga Basics

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A community-wide movement brings a change in parenting and partnership perspectives.

Lesley Scearce, Chief Executive Officer, United Way of Greater Chattanooga

Standing in line at the grocery store, my five year old little boy (Charlie) turned my purse upside down.  Out rolled loose change, pens and an assortment of junk I hadn’t seen in months.  I have to admit, my first inclination was to loudly whisper, “Charlie, pick that up NOW!” hoping to clean up the mess before drawing too much attention to ourselves.

But instead, in a moment of clarity, I recalled Dr. Ron Ferguson’s call to teach kids in every day moments how to Count, Group and Compare.  So, instead of yelling, I had Charlie count the change.  I asked him to group the items by color, then size, then shape.  We discussed the differences in the items.  What could have been a parenting fail became a brain building moment.  Another woman in line noted the experience and as we struck up a conversation I was able to direct her to to learn five fun, simple and powerful ways that every family can give every child a great start in life.

This moment was sparked by my participation in Harvard Business School’s Young American Leaders Program.  It was an incredible experience to join 9 diverse, young leaders from Chattanooga in connecting with 9 other cities…many facing similar challenges as Chattanooga.  As we considered how cross sector collaborations can impact economic mobility, improving access and quality of public education, and building civil society we were challenged as a group to take on a project that could have impact upon our return to Chattanooga.

Our YALP Team connected with Dr. Ron Ferguson, founder of Harvard’s Achievement Gap Initiative.  Ferguson shared research that shows that in the first three years of life, skill gaps emerge between socio-economic, racial, and ethnic groups. Simple interactions can help. In fact, everyday interactions between children, their parents, and other caregivers provide abundant opportunities to give children from every background a more equal start in life. The Basics, launched in Boston by Ferguson, is having marked impact teaching five simple ways for every family to be brain builders.

The Basics include:

  1. Maximize Love, Manage Stress
  2. Talk, Sing & Point
  3. Count, Group & Compare
  4. Explore Through Movement & Play
  5. Read & Discuss Stories

Our YALP team knew that launching the Basics in Chattanooga was critical.

Consider this:

  • 80% of brain development occurs in the first three years of life.
  • Only 40% of Chattanooga children attend quality, licensed early learning programs. A recent assessment shows that our city needs 4,000 additional early childhood spots to meet demand.
  • Quality early learning in Chattanooga is unaffordable for approximately 9,000 children.
  • 60% of Chattanooga children begin kindergarten “not ready” or already behind. That figure hardly improves over time as nearly 60% of third graders are behind in literacy skills as well.

Today, Chattanooga is taking on a community wide movement to ensure every child is prepared for school, work and life.  Business, education, nonprofits, government and the faith community are partnering to meet our collective goal of 75% of our population with a postsecondary degree or credential.  Considering the impact of early learning, what better way to impact our future workforce than to empower all parents to be their child’s first and best brain builder? What better way to close our stark achievement gap, starting at home with our own families?

On August 19, 150 parents, teachers, community advocates and even children filled the community room at Orchard Knob Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee where Dr. Ron Ferguson himself helped our YALP team launch the Chattanooga Basics.

In a mere four months, the Chattanooga Basics is poised for a community-wide launch.  YALP team members worked with Ferguson’s team to rebrand videos and collateral, launch a website and host training for parents and early childhood educators.  United Way of Greater Chattanooga secured a Tennessee Department of Health Grant for Building Strong Brains to empower educators and business leaders to take a lead role spreading the Chattanooga Basics into every pocket of our community.  A strategy for both widespread public awareness and deep community mobilization through existing systems is in development.

Most notably, our early childhood coalition (that consists of 30 organizations reaching thousands of children) has adopted the Chattanooga Basics as our common language.  Each organization, congregation and school is embedding the framework into their existing work, leveraging our efforts in a new way!

Put simply, the Chattanooga Basics has the power to change the perspectives of organizations, businesses, congregations and even stressed moms like me in supermarket lines.  The potential? A generation of healthy, hopeful learners ready to learn, grow and one day, give back.

More About The Chattanooga Basics:

The Chattanooga Basics are five evidence-based parenting and caregiving principles that can benefit children from all backgrounds. A broad range of Chattanooga organizations and community members will soon be helping to ensure that every parent and caregiver is fully supported in using the Chattanooga Basics practices in everyday life.

Chattanooga Basics was launched by volunteers within the Chattanooga community, in tandem with the Boston Basics organization, a group started by The Achievement Gap Initiative (AGI) at Harvard University. AGI is a university-wide effort based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Harvard Kennedy School, supporting governmental, civic, and private sector mechanisms, like the Chattanooga Basics, to close skill gaps between racial, ethnic, and income groups, and to raise achievement levels for all children.

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