Escambia Grow With Me project lauded

Baby wearing LENA vest. Credit: LENA Research Foundation.

The Early Learning Coalition of Escambia County earned a shoutout from state education officials for a project to improve the quality of early childhood education in our community.

The Office of Early Learning, which is part of the Florida Department of Education, published its annual report and included Escambia’s project called Grow With Me.

Twenty-nine infant-toddler teachers participated in Grow With Me. Teachers were recruited in high-risk poverty tracts in an effort to potentially improve the kindergarten readiness scores. Teachers earned stipends and received intensive coaching.

That coaching included a CLASS observation three times a year. CLASS is an observation-based model that measures teacher-child interactions in three broad domains: emotional support, classroom organization and instructional support.

Based on that observation, a teacher will get feedback and coaching on her strengths and strategies to build her areas of improvement.

That targeted coaching, says the Coalition’s Vicki Pugh, can include for example, talking to children in a warm, respectful tone about what is going to happen throughout the day. Pugh says there are stipends built in based on their CLASS observations.

It also included using Language Environmental Analysis Devices (LENA) in infant care rooms to track the talk and interaction childcare staff had with the children in their care.

The first year of the project will cost $39,000 and include buying the devices, vests for the children to wear while they have the LENA on, software licensing and training for childcare center directors, classroom teachers and Coalition staff on how to use the devices.

Pugh says it impacted 200 children in the pilot phase.

“Data from CLASS and LENA showed the resulting effects on youngest children: 61 percent of participating children heard an increase of words in their classrooms. Infant teachers improved a minimum of two points on CLASS assessments by the end of the year. Toddler teachers improved a minimum of one point at the end of the year on CLASS,” according to the OEL report.

This fall, SCI and the Coalition launched a pilot program for LENA Start parent outreach in Pensacola, the first of its kind in Florida. It brought the LENA recorders and an accompanying curriculum to Pensacola parents.

Read the annual report here.