In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama discussed the importance of early education. Specifically, he enumerated the reasons why quality preschool experiences are essential for the future of the education system in the United States. He stressed the need for early education reform, which includes identifying at-risk and vulnerable populations who have been more limited in their access to quality education. These at-risk groups include minority and low-income children as studies have found that these populations are more likely to demonstrate delays in literacy and language development. At Yale Village Community in Houston, Texas, Better Tomorrows Social Service Coordinator Melody Nalls took these points to heart. In September 2013, she implemented the program “Mini Marvels,” a pre-literacy program for preschool aged children specially designed to encourage and enhance language development in at-risk populations.
The Yale Village Community houses many young children considered to be at-risk youth. Often, their parents have experienced significant economic struggles that make affordable housing a very necessary reality. With funding limited, quality early education can be difficult – if not impossible – to access. Ms. Nalls recognized this issue and decided to start the pre-literacy program as a way of directly benefiting these children. Meeting twice a week, Mini Marvels caters to children 2- to 4-years-old. Parents attend each class with their children and participate in activities centered around reading and language development. At each session, two books are read aloud, letter recognition games are played and children and parents recite the alphabet. Parents are also encouraged to play with their children in way that promotes curiosity and vocabulary development. To be part of the program, parents and family members are required to read no fewer than twenty-five books a month to their children. They record which age-appropriate books they have read to their child and then share the log with Ms. Nalls.
Better Tomorrows is very excited about the Mini Marvels program. Although a new program, the Mini Marvels children are already making great strides. Ms. Nalls reports that the children who actively participate in the program are making advances in their letter recognition and language skills. In general, the Mini Marvel children are demonstrating a keen interest in books and the process of going to the library to check them out. Some parents are even reporting that their children are reminding them to read throughout the day. Over the next few months, Better Tomorrows will continue to track the progress of the Mini Marvel children. Ideally, the program will continue to enhance the early educational experiences of preschool-aged children living in Better Tomorrows’ communities. If the long-term outcomes look anything like the short-term results, it is safe to say that this program will be a great success.