LENA presents Huntsville City Schools with Award for Early Language Development Program
Dr. Steve Hannon of the LENA Research Foundation recently presented Huntsville City Schools with the 2017 Terry Paul "Making A Difference" award alongside Superintendent Dr. Matt Akin and members of the School Readiness department. The award, which was originally announced at the research foundation's biennial conference in September, recognizes outstanding contributions in fostering talk with children from birth to age three - a critical age range for stimulating brain development through interactive talk. In keeping with the "Paths to Opportunity" theme of the 2017 LENA Research Foundation conference, this years awards represent three different large-scale avenues for improving school readiness: parent group programs, home visitation, and early childhood education.
Addressing the parents at the presentation, Dr. Hannon explains, "you are all brain builders - you're building your child's brain." He goes on to add, "parents here are what it's all about - they're the child's first and best teacher." According to Dr. Hannon, you cannot improve what you don't measure, and that's where LENA (Language ENvironment Analysis) comes in. He says the goal is to help get children and their families to build a firm foundation so they are more prepared to begin school.
Huntsville City Schools adopted the LENA Start parent-group program in 2015, in order to help parents better prepare their kids for the district's pre-school program. The district was one of the first to recognize that a mission to educate all students must include a vision of children from birth to age three. Parents have benefited from practical strategies for increasing early talk, social capital resulting from group sessions, and the enthusiasm and energy brought to every session by all parties. The "Making A Difference" award recognized the consistency of large impacts to home language environments and child outcomes.
"As a school district, we think that we are touching the lives of just the children, but now we're touching the lives of the family," says HCS Director of School Readiness Helen Scott. She and her staff spoke with LENA representatives after the awards ceremony in September, pointing out that the lives positively affected by this program include mothers, fathers, and even grandparents, but Ms. Scott also added that "we have more that we have to do to touch the lives of families, and that's where we're going now." The hard work of the district is paying off, however, and the first Huntsville LENA Start babies entered Pre-K this fall. Ms. Scott says that her team will be tracking those students and working with their families, to make sure they don't experience "fade out" on their way to third grade.