Building brains is Pensacola’s biggest construction project

Throughout Pensacola, especially downtown, there are construction projects going on almost everywhere.

Old buildings are being renovated and new buildings are redefining the landscape and skyline.

But the biggest construction project happening in Pensacola isn’t with brick and mortar. The biggest construction project right now is building babies’ brains.

And we at Studer Community Institute are excited to be on the ground floor of this building project. We know that if we can build a brain, we can build a life and a community.

Nearly 85 percent of the brain is fully developed by age 3. That’s why the first 1,000 days of a child’s life — the time between birth and age 3 — are critical to the physical development of the brain.

So, why should that matter to you, whether you have a baby or not? It reminds me of the old Fram Auto parts commercial that said,” You can pay me now or you can pay me later.”

And if we pay later we pay with fewer jobs, lower wages, higher crime and more teenage pregnancies. Instead of building businesses, we’ll need more jail cells. Instead of better jobs, we’ll have more welfare.

We all have the responsibility to ensure that every child has the chance to become a productive member of our community. That each child can prepare for a future filled with hope and possibilities, instead of a life of broken promises and shattered dreams.

Reaching children in their earliest years can help ensure that they get the healthy and strong start they need to begin school ready to learn, grow and reach their greatest potential.

More and more evidence shows that investment in early education provides significant benefits to children, families and society.

It increases economic growth and promotes greater opportunity over time.

Studer Community Institute has created several initiatives to benefit young children and hopefully improve the quality of life for everyone in this community.

Sharika Abrams shares her lesson on non-verbal communication with her daughter, De’aviyanna, during Attucks Court parent outreach program at Fricker Community Center.

One of them that I am proud and excited to a part of is the Parent Outreach Program.

In a partnership with the Pensacola Area Housing Commission, SCI has reached out to parents of children 0 to 3 years old.

Each week, SCI staff offers parents tips, training and strategies in early learning initiatives for their young children under 4 years old at Moreno and Attucks courts.

The goal is to reach parents with helpful ways to engage their children and build babies’ brains, and in the long run, build better lives and a better community.

Since June, the one hour, once-a-week programs have used educational information from the University of Chicago Thirty Million Word Initiative and LENA Start, emphasizing the key component of the three T’s: Tune in, Talk to and Take turns. Most parents have the ability to talk, interact and engage with their children in daily encounters and activities. This simple but crucial task is at the heart of Thirty Million Words strategies. We are using and building on those important principles in our parent programs in Pensacola.

SCI staff also prepares curricula, using a variety of early education resources, videos and research materials to offer parents information to improve their lives as well.

It will be at least three years before parents and the community can see the benefits and measure the results of these kinds of programs.

But everyday that parents talk more, read more, interact more with their babies is another chance to build a baby’s brains.

And one thing we can measure now is the importance and impact of the programs.

At the end of the year, we gave parents and Area Housing directors and managers surveys to measure and rate the success — or failure — of the program.

Participants gave the parent outreach a 9.5 out of 10 rating; rated the program’s value overall at 9..5 out of 10; and gave the program a net promoter score of 95 percent. Net promoter score measures someone’s likelihood to not only positively review an event or experience, but also measures how likely they are to recommend that experience or service to a friend.

The management team rated the programs even better — a 10 out of 10 across the board, with a net promoter score of 100 percent.

One manager said, when asked if the program met expectations: “They went above and beyond what I expected. I was very excited to see how the tenants showed interest in the program. This is a first for our tenants.”

A parent said in a testimonial: “This experience has changed my whole outlook on how a child learns. Using what I’ve learned, my daughter now is saying more words and speaking more to where I understand what she is saying.”

The Parent Outreach Program is one of several initiatives created and designed to offer educational and informative lessons and activities to engage and involve parents.

Parents at Moreno Court discuss lesson on building babies brains through conversation at home.

Plans now are in the works to expand the program to at least two more sites in Pensacola in areas identified as “pockets of poverty. Two places in consideration are Oakwood Terrace (formerly Truman Arms) and Pensacola Village apartments.

For parents facing economic difficulties, it can be especially challenging to provide their children the necessities of life.

But one thing any parent can provide is the power of the spoken word. Word power is brain power.

Words are food to a baby’s brain. The more words a child hears in the first three years of life, the stronger the connections in the brain will be.

As we embark on a new year, we want to expand Parent Outreach in other places to serve more parents and their children.

At SCI, we’re taking small steps in many ways each day to make Pensacola’s America’s First Early Learning City, one word, one child, one parent at a time.