Last week in Atlanta, Foundations hosted our largest Beyond School Hours conference yet. Almost 2,000 attendees came—representing all fifty states and a wide cross section of our country’s educational sector. For me, BSH is about building partnerships and engaging in national dialogue about what we can do (and are doing) to help kids. Beyond School Hours is one of the only national education conferences that puts afterschool at front and center, highlighting out-of-school time programs—and the people who make them happen—as critical to kids’ success.
On Thursday I went to the Grade Level Reading Symposium, which was moderated by Ralph Smith, Executive Vice President at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “If it’s about one thing,” said panelist B.J. Walker, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Services, “it’s about words.” Commissioner Walker went on to say that we need to use a “laser beam focus” to engage children with language from they day they are born and every day after. This is a critical message and I was no less than euphoric to hear it coming from the Commissioner. I’ve written a number of posts on the importance of oral language and vocabulary for this blog, including most recently The Importance of Talking, which highlighted findings from a study I was involved with in El Salvador: regardless of whether a parent could read, there was a compelling relationship between parents talking to their children in a meaningful way, and children’s reading scores.
Right after the Grade Level Reading Symposium, I went to a reception for Making Connections, a joint initiative of Annie E. Casey, Foundations, and a network of national partners. I got to meet Sally Edwards, a principal at Harrington Elementary in Denver (I interviewed her for a previous post on bilingual education). Harrington’s Early Excellence Program is a wonderful, concrete example of what Commissioner Walker was talking about. Early Excellence provides workshops to help parents engage young children with oral language and vocabulary before they begin preschool. The program has had great success—kids who have attended Early Excellence are showing huge progress in reading.
Beyond School Hours reminds us that we’re all in this together, and reminds us that we all face the same challenges. Perhaps more importantly, there are people out there making progress. If you attended the conference this year, we’d love to hear from you!