Latinos, one of the fastest growing minorities in the United States, are increasingly impacting education, culture and social justice trends. Of these, education is the single most powerful lever to improve outcomes for Latino populations. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 15 million Hispanics have immigrated into the U.S. from 2000 to 2010. As a result, educators have responded to the achievement gap in schools by incorporating language-appropriate instruction and curriculum-based materials for English Language Learner (ELL) students. In addition, the government has made attempts to narrow discrepancies in the education system to ensure that all citizens have equal opportunities to succeed.
The U.S. Department of Education found that average test scores for Latino students in 4th and 8th grades have increased over time, but white students still continue to perform higher on overall assessments. This could be attributed to the fact that Latino children access Head Start programs and center-based day care at numbers far below their peers, which has an effect on school entry beginning in kindergarten. Research shows that school entry disparities are insidious, since it is rare for children to catch up to their more advanced peers.
The Ready to Learn grant was created to promote early learning and school readiness specifically with the goal of reaching low-income children. By addressing the achievement gap early on, the aim is that by kindergarten, minority students will be on the same academic level as their peers. Recipients of this five-year grant are organizations that focus on educational television and digital media for preschool and early elementary school children as well as their families. In addition, organizations must provide nationally relevant programming, contribute to community-based outreach, and conduct research on the level of its educational effectiveness.
In 2010, the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network (HITN) was awarded the Ready to Learn grant. HITN’s project, The Early Learning Collaborative (ELC) has been in existence since 2012 and utilizes a transmedia approach to education focused on English language development (ELD), early literacy and early math. ELC’s materials are depicted by a character set known as Pocoyo, a popular children’s figure. Since HITN is an organization dedicated to the Latino community, many of ELC’s materials are bilingual in English and Spanish.
ELC’s transmedia approach to education consists of digital and non-digital educational materials. In other words, the materials support teacher’s curriculums by providing them with multiple resources to help educate their English speaking and ELL students. Each PlayGround follows a theme consistent with typical preschool curriculums. The mission of ELC is to help close the achievement gap and ensure that all children are ready for kindergarten. In addition, ELC focuses on the importance of family engagement and has created supplemental materials in order to bridge the gap between home and school.
HITN is in its final year of the grant and has accumulated a significant amount of research and development in the areas of ELD, early literacy, early math, as well as family engagement.
As part of ELC’s demonstration program, its materials are being tested in 115 sites across the country. Sites include Head Start programs, family day care centers, community organizations, subsidized programs, as well as public and private preschools. Preference is given to locations with high levels of financial need and a high percentage of ELL students. Research has shown that after six weeks of engaging with the PlayGround materials in their classrooms, ELL children had increased levels of early literacy and ELD. In addition, a summative study of ELD materials led by the Michael Cohen Group (a randomized control trial study) in five states found that ELC’s resources were significantly more effective than the control group’s materials in helping Spanish-speaking children learn English.
In order for everyone to have the opportunity to live the American Dream, society must work together to close the achievement gap before children even enter kindergarten. ELC is making strides by providing resources for children, teachers, and families to ensure kindergarten readiness and promote greater success in school and beyond.
Andrea Mascaro is an Associate Producer of Research and Development at HITN. Andrea is a second-generation immigrant born in San Diego, CA, from parents of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent. She received her Master of Education and Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Columbia University. She presented at the National Head Start Association’s Parent and Family Engagement Conference on the importance of transmedia and family engagement in early education. She currently resides in New York, NY.
You can visit the ELC website for more information about the program at: www.earlylearningcollaborative.org.