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Thursday July 24th 2014

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Good Report Card for ECARE

ECARE is making progress in its quest to prepare children for kindergarten. One promise ECARE made was to provide tutors for children in pre-k classes at Global Learning Academy. While the number of volunteers is small, the numbers reflecting the progress made is very uplifting.

In October and January, GLA did its own assessment of VPK children below, meeting and exceeding expectations in: print knowledge, phonological awareness, math knowledge and oral language and vocabulary.

In October 2011, 84 percent of children were below expectation in print knowledge. In January the number decreased to 25 percent. Now, 47 percent are exceeding expectation compared to October’s 14 percent.

For phonological awareness, 78 percent were below expectations in October 2011. Now, it’s 44 percent, with 25 percent exceeding compared to 8 percent in October.

Eighty-nine percent of children were below expectations in math knowledge in October 2011. Since the New Year it has decreased to 38 percent. No children in October were exceeding, but now 31 percent are exceeding expectations in math knowledge.

In oral language and vocabulary, 65 percent of students were below expectations in October.  Now, that number is 11 percent.  Fifty-eight percent of children are now exceeding expectations compared to October’s 14 percent.

At last week’s meeting for GLA tutors, Melina Leonard, early literacy coach for Wee Read, presented these numbers to the group inside Lili Marlene’s during a luncheon held for volunteers. The positive changes resulted in smiles around the room.

“Call Channel 3,” a tutor called out.

But there’s still work to be done.

Katelyn Gillespie is a graduate student at UWF. She’s been working with the university on the ECARE Research Team as well as tutoring two four-year-olds.

Upon her first meeting with the kids she noticed health issues – one had rotting, black teeth. The little boy – “always dressed to the nines” Gillespie points out – mentioned the other day how he went to the park by his grandmother’s house and heard gunshots. Whether it was an imaginative story told by a four-year-old or not, the reality is that it’s believable.

“One day that’s going to be running their life more than learning ABCs,” Gillespie said of the scenario.

Tutors at GLA meet with the same student (or students) in 45-minute sessions. Shoebox-sized containers hold different books and activities that pertain to the book’s theme and provide a loose lesson plan.

William Marchi decided to help after a recruiter came to his rotary meeting. His technique is to build on what a child likes to do and make learning fun.

“If I can inspire a student, that’s nice feedback,” he said.

Most of the time, the challenge is getting a four-year-old to focus.

“It’s been 30 years since I’ve had a four-year-old around,” said ECARE Board Member, Jean Norman.

From the advice of another, Norman sought out books based on her child’s favorite character – Dora the Explorer.

“I found four books at T.J. Maxx and sure enough she held the books and turned the page for me as I read them,” Norman said proudly.

Right now, there are enough tutors for children in the VPK classes at GLA. But while ECARE hopes to expand the tutoring system to day-cares and schools outside of the GLA zone, more volunteers will be needed.

The average tutor at GLA is a white, middle-aged female while many of the students are African American. No one mentioned that fact at the meeting except for the one minority, Linda Moultrie, citizen case liaison in the investigations unit of the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and school board member.

“It took me a long time to learn that it wasn’t ‘sammich,’ it was ‘sandwich,’” she said. “I know I’m a minority – I have to ask ‘Where are my people teaching our children?’”