NCEF helps at-risk youngsters prepare for academic success

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Children who enter school without a firm grasp of English stand the chance of falling behind from the very start. Helping at-risk youngsters expand their grasp of the language – both in written and verbal form – is the aim of the Early Literacy and Learning Model and Wings on Words.

The Naples Children and Education Foundation supports the programs through funds raised at the annual Naples Winter Wine Festival. The programs help more than 1,200 pre-kindergarten pupils in 70 Collier County classrooms who come from impoverished homes, particularly those in which English is not the primary spoken language.

The Early Literacy and Learning Model and Wings on Words help children improve their reading and communication skills, furnishing classrooms with engaging materials for children and literacy coaches who help pre-K teachers develop lesson plans and student activities.

As it has in previous years, the NCEF donated $350,000 this year to enable the programs to enrich the education of children in sites such as the Guadalupe Center, Redlands Christian Migrant Association and Head Start classrooms throughout Naples and Immokalee.

Assessment tests show the programs help teachers more effectively teach these critical skills, with at least 95 percent of the children who participate improving their English vocabulary skills.

Debby Shaver, ELLM project director, says participating children take assessment tests at the start and end of the academic year to gauge their progress.

“Some 4-year-olds come in with no English at all and score less than an average 2-year-old on the first test,” Shaver says. “By the end of the year, we can often help them gain two years’ growth so that they may be just a few months behind rather than 2 ½ years behind [their peers] when they start kindergarten.”

That makes a huge difference in their chances for success.

“Research clearly shows we have to begin with children at a young age to help them really grasp literacy and be ready to start kindergarten,” says Pat Riley, executive director of Southwest Florida’s Alliance of Educational Leaders, who directs the programs on behalf of the FGCU Foundation, which administers the funds. “Children, especially those from poverty, are often behind their counterparts from affluent backgrounds in regard to how many words they hear and the kind of feedback they get. If they aren’t ready to learn, they are likely to become part of that gap that keeps getting wider as the years go on.”

Pinnacle Issue Info
Issue Date: 
August 2013
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