Early learning and children’s literacy: Game changers for Latinos

By John Benson

Education is just like life: one must first walk before learning to run. That’s why proponents of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education) are also promoting early learning and children’s literacy initiatives around the country.

In a nutshell, that’s the message Colorado Lt. Governor Joseph Garcia will be touting as a speaker at the 9th Annual NALEO National Summit on the State of Latino Education this week in Washington, DC.

“If we want more of our students of communities of color to move into STEM fields, we better do a better job of preparing them and making sure they’re getting access to high quality academically rigorous courses in junior high and high school,” Garcia told VOXXI. “Otherwise, we’re enrolling kids – and this is a problem we face now – but not graduating them from college.”

Early learning and children’s literacy are game changers

Garcia will discuss many different early learning and children’s literacy issues and solutions aimed at closing the achievement gap.

ISSUE: A recent Dept. of Education study revealed less than half of Hispanic children attend any kind of preschool.

“The achievement gap isn’t created in the K-12 system,” Garcia said. “It exists the minute students first show up.”

SOLUTION: “Quality early childhood education begins by working with parents and families so that they know how to provide the kind of academic and intellectual development that is needed at home,” Garcia said.

“How do we get families to think about the importance of reading to their kids? We need to be working with families the minute kids are born and we need to be providing better quality early childhood education opportunities for every kid.”

ISSUE: Many academically successful Latino high school seniors plan on higher education but months after graduation give up on the dream.

SOLUTION: “We need to bring together early childhood educators with K-12 educators with higher education educators so that we’re addressing that handoff in a way that’s more helpful. Also, we’re focused on early remediation: identifying those kids who are behind when they’re still in high school so we can get them remedial courses. And when they graduate, they can move directly to college-level courses at the institutions.”

He said that in Colorado state officials are focused on concurrent enrollment, which is working well with Hispanic and low-income kids taking college level courses while still in high school.

In turn, they graduate with college credit. He said studies show kids who have already earned college credit are more likely to seek higher education.

ISSUE: The rigors of a STEM college curriculum are often too demanding.

SOLUTION: “If we don’t have more of our kids getting access to quality early childhood education programs, we’re never going to be able to get more kids graduating and being ready for the academically rigorous STEM fields,” Garcia said.

Colorado’s issues have a national tone

It’s easy to see why Garcia was pegged to talk at the conference regarding early learning and children’s literacy.

The issue is a popular topic in Colorado, where 33 percent of students in K-12 school are Latino students. However, roughly 60 percent of Hispanic kids in Colorado leave 3rd grade not being proficient readers.

This is compared to a 90 percent reading proficient reading rate for white students.

Garcia said his message for the summit is simple:

“It’s not enough for us to say we need to put more energy into early literacy,” Garcia said on early learning. “We need to target our resources to English language learners and low-income communities because that’s where the gap really exists. One-third of our school system is Latino, so we know if we want to have the workforce we’re going to need to be successful in the future, we have to do a better job of educating our Hispanic students.”

A year after Colorado voters approved the bi-partisan READ Act, which improved early learning programs, Garcia said there’s another initiative at the ballot box on Election Day in his home state that if passed will increase taxes to provide better support in the K-12 system.

More importantly for Latino students, those funds would be targeted towards school districts with a high percent of English language learners.

“We’re also trying to increase the amount of financial aid dollars available,” Garcia said. “So we get more kids in and help them afford it. There’s not a simple answer. We’re doing a bunch of different things at all levels, and we think we need all of them if we’re going to be successful.”

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Originally published in VOXXI.