IP Foundation to award SCI early learning grant

What's in a Brain Bag?

Monday may now be my favorite day of the week.

On Oct. 9 we learned that Studer Community Institute will receive a grant from the International Paper Foundation. The parent company that owns the Cantonment-area paper mill announced that the 40 nonprofits in our community received $2,500 grants on Oct. 31.

The Foundation offers grants to nonprofits in communities where it has a facility in support of three Signature Causes — children’s education, disaster relief and health and wellness. The company gave out a total of $100,000 to improve the quality of life in the community.

“Literacy, particularly from birth through third grade, will continue to be a major priority of the Foundation because it forms the basis for all childhood learning,” the Foundation’s website notes.

Along with SCI, other agencies that received awards included the Pensacola MESS Hall, Ballet Pensacola, Pensacola Promise Chain Reaction, the Cantonment Improvement Committee, Ronald McDonald House and more.

We couldn’t agree more. Research from across the country and the world points to the critical influence the first three years of life has on a child’s brain development, likelihood of learning to be a strong reader and ultimately, school readiness.

It’s important in Escambia County, where data from the Florida Office of Early Learning tells us that only 66 percent of our county’s kindergartners were ready for school on the first day.

That gap leaves about 1,000 children who are lacking to some degree the basic skills in language exposure they will need to learn to be strong readers. That’s something that could hold them back throughout their school careers, hurting their chances at success — and hurting our community’s chances to grow and prosper.

We submitted a request for the Brain Bag project, which aims to put early literacy gift bags in the hands of new mothers at each of Escambia County’s three major birthing hospitals.

The program includes a lesson for parents, delivered by the hospital nursing staff, on early brain development and the crucial role parents play in that growth.

Kiera Smith-Crosby and her daughter, Joh’Nysia. Credit: Reggie Dogan.

Since April, Baptist and West Florida hospitals have been handing out the bags; Sacred Heart Hospital began theirs in May. Since the program began through the end of September, Through the end of September, 2,393 moms have received a Brain Bag.

Moms who have received those lessons, gave the Brain Bag a 9.18 rating (out of 10) in terms of effectiveness at increasing their knowledge of how parent talk impacts early brain development.

The bags were launched with a grant from IMPACT 100 Pensacola Bay Area. Now we must continue to fundraise to support them after the IMPACT grant expires. We are thrilled that International Paper will be part of the effort to continue that project.

And we thank IP for their faith in our work.