Research shows that providing high quality education for young children yields significant long-term benefits for them and saves a lot of education dollars in the long run. KPCW has teamed up with the Early Childhood Alliance to file weekly reports about the importance of providing early educational opportunities for all children in the Wasatch Back.
In this report, KPCW’s Leslie Thatcher focuses on the Whitney Foundation Research Project to see how a local early childhood program has made a difference.
In 2016 Holy Cross Ministries received funding from the Whitney Foundation to conduct a study of the pre-school graduates of their School Readiness Program. The Whitney Foundation supports those projects that may otherwise fall through the cracks in traditional funding sources.
The School Readiness Program offers full day classes Monday through Thursday and includes both academic and enrichment activities to prepare children to enter into the public school system.
Emmie Gardner the Executive Director of Holy Cross Ministries says the organization tries to be an evidence based program in terms of its interventions. So, Holy Cross used the foundation money to see if the program they had established for young, low-income, Spanish speaking preschools was making a difference.
“And one of our mantras at Holy Cross is you know let’s find a need and meet it,” Gardner said. “And we wanted to make sure if we really have found the need or if we were kind of doing something that we thought made sense but maybe wasn't having that impact. So, when this opportunity came with Whitney Foundation to do this longitudinal study, we really looked at it an opportunity to say let's take qualitative and quantitative data - we did interviews right and then we looked at test scores - to really say - did what we create make a meaningful difference in the lives of these little ones and it really helped give them that great start and launch into their academic careers.”
Gardner says they saw impressive outcomes, in both kindergarten and 3rd grade test scores, and those who were part of their program were on par with their English speaking counterparts years later.
One of the biggest take-aways from the study was the need to work with the parents as much as with the children to help them understand the role they play in their children’s achievements.
“Those children who did better academically tended to have parents who really were more engaged and invested with their students in their academic function” she said. “And what I mean by that is asking do have homework - what are you doing - reading with them - working with them and really helping the children see that sort of power of knowledge and learning right versus parents who may say, you’ve had a really busy day. It’s OK - you can like sit down and watch TV.”
Holy Cross conducted the study in partnership with The University of Utah's Department of Family and Consumer Studies. Professor Cheryl Wright says they incorporated both quantitative and qualitative data on children in Park City and the impact of Holy Cross’ programs on their current academic success. Wright helped create the research team and analyze the data. . A critical aspect of the work she says was the access that Holy Cross had with families who would prefer to stay under the radar.
“One of the things that I think is so important about this study is - it's really hard to recruit and do this kind of work with vulnerable families and there was also obstacles with the political climate that was going on where you were asking people to share information with us but Holy Cross Ministries has developed in a credible amount of trust in this community,” Wright said. “They were able to implement this study whereas a lot of other researchers have trouble reaching these families.”
123 interviews were conducted with parents who represented 133 children. The study looked at students in this program as well as other preschools, including the Park City School District’s preschool, as well as children who were not in preschool.
Wright says the data shows that based on test scores, this culturally sensitive program even had better outcomes than the program offered by the school district. The majority of students who attended Holy Cross Ministries School Readiness Program she says scored higher on literacy measures than those in other preschools, and of significantly higher than those children not in preschool.
“It was my understanding that most of the teachers were bilingual and, you know, talk to the children in Spanish and that they really understood these families, developed trust with these families, so I think they had the advantage over the school district’s program because their program was designed for these families,” Wright said.
She added that the data did show that the bilingual teachers could have done a better job giving their native Spanish-speaking students more exposure to the English language
You can read more about the research findings here.