Filling Homes with the Sound of Learning

By: Sarah Belanger

Sarah Belanger is an Early Childhood Program Specialist. She supervises Early Childhood Home Visitors in Jackson County, Kentucky.

When I think of why we are in Jackson County, lyrics from Paul Simon’s song “Sound of Silence” come to mind: “Silence like a cancer grows/ Hear my words that I might teach you/Take my arms that I might reach you/But my words, like silent raindrops fell/And echoed in the wells/of silence.”

A child not learning causes a type of silence in a community. In the song, Simon compares the growth of silence to cancer, just as a lack of learning can spread ignorance, misinterpretation, and place limitations on a child’s potential.

Members of Jackson County’s communities, however, are realizing that they can change the way their children are learning by committing to early childhood education. I had the privilege of meeting one such mom, Courtney*, who signed up for our Early Steps to School Success (ESSS) program. Targeting children from birth to age five, our program builds strong foundations for parenting and school readiness. As part of the program, a home visitor regularly provides Courtney with information on child development and helped her plan activities that help her use her own skills and resources to support her children’s development. In addition to home visits, ESSS facilitates parent/child groups, book bag exchanges, and community connections.

Courtney was once a young mother from rural Kentucky, who, like many parents in isolated regions, had no idea that her relationships and actions would have a significant impact on her babies’ brain development. For years she survived “on a shoestring” — as they say around here — without a job and succumbing to the temptations poverty presents – one being substance abuse. Although she desired to be a good mother to her three children, they were eventually put in the foster care system.

Having her children taken away motivated Courtney to change her life. She worked hard to recover from drug dependency, and succeeded. In time, she married and had three more children.

I am impressed by the strides Courtney has made to become a better mother. I’ve seen firsthand how she embraced the Early Steps to School Success program and understands now how important it is to read to her children. Through a resource called Vroom — an initiative of the Bezos Family Foundation — she learned that she could have a part in her children’s brain development. The five principles – look, chat, follow, stretch, take turns – help parents understand the science behind their child’s learning. Vroom incorporates activity cards, an app and a playbook as learning tools. It was humbling to hear the sound of children learning in Courtney’s home.

Not only has Vroom and ESSS helped Courtney, but events have been held in all three of the elementary schools in Jackson County to share the Vroom message. Community members have come together to share information as well. Every time a Save the Children home-visitor meets a family, more people in Jackson County hear that they can help their children learn, and make a commitment to teach others to stop the sound of silence.

*Name is changed for privacy

Click here to learn more about Vroom.

Taking the Scary Out of Disaster for Kids

Erin Lauer
Erin Lauer

U.S. Preparedness Manager

Save the Children U.S

August 8, 2017

When it comes to the weather in northwest Arkansas, the forecast can be a bit like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. Extreme heat, nasty thunderstorms, flash flooding, ice storms, tornadoes and even earthquakes have all impacted families in this area in the foothills of the Ozarks.

The risks may seem overwhelming, but the second graders at Butterfield Elementary School in Fayetteville are now ready to weather whatever storm may come their way after participating in a recent Save the Children Prep Rally. A Prep Rally is an emergency preparedness program full of activities and games that help children learn the basics of getting ready for disasters.

More than half of American families don’t have an emergency plan, but kids can play a key role in helping their families get ready for disasters. In fact, families of school-age children who bring home preparedness resources are 75 percent more likely to have an emergency plan. That’s why Butterfield Elementary invested in preparing their kids.

Students from Fayetteville’s Butterfield Elementary School participate in a Prep Rally. Photo by Bob Coleman.
Students from Fayetteville’s Butterfield Elementary School participate in a Prep Rally. Photo by Bob Coleman.

The Butterfield Elementary Prep Rally helped 100 second graders learn how to recognize risks in their area, how to make a family emergency plan, and what supplies to have ready in a disaster. The program uses fun activities, games, and dance to help kids learn about disasters, empowering them with safety and resilience skills. The Un-Telephone game reminded the kids how it can be difficult to communicate during a crisis, and how important it is to know what to do before a disaster. The Family Plan countdown had everyone up and motioning for their 3 ICE (in case of emergency) contacts, 2 evacuation routes and 1 safe place.  Students also played the Disaster Supplies Relay race, learning about what items they should bring with them in case of a disaster.

“The Prep Rally was really fun — now I keep my go bag on the table in case something happens,” said Katherine, age 8.

After closing with the Prep Step song and dance, the children went outside for a special treat — a visit from their local first responders who keep them safe every day. Fayetteville Fire, Police, Central EMS and the Washington County Sheriff taught the children about the different roles they play in an emergency, and brought fire trucks, ambulances and police cars for the kids to explore. The highlight of the event was a visit by the medical transport helicopter from Mercy Hospital, which landed on the soccer field and gave kids a first-hand look at the vehicle that can help bring sick children to the hospital nearly 200 miles away.

Jennifer Condron, one of Butterfield Elementary’s second grade teachers said, “What a memorable and exciting event! I just sent pictures to parents and encouraged them to talk with their children about their emergency plans for home.”

Local first responders from Mercy Hospital showed students how the helicopter and its crew can help someone who is hurt or sick. Photo by Bob Coleman.
Local first responders from Mercy Hospital showed students how the helicopter and its crew can help someone who is hurt or sick. Photo by Bob Coleman.

Debbie Malone, the Community Preparedness Champion for Washington County added, “The Prep Rally was a great way to teach kids about disasters in a way that wasn’t scary, and help them build relationships with local first responders. It was really nice to see the community coming together to promote safety and preparedness to our children.”

The Prep Rally was presented as part of the Resilient Children/Resilient Communities Initiative, led by Save the Children’s partnership with the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and funded by a grant from GSK. This three-year initiative, through two pilot programs in Arkansas and New York, will develop child-focused community resilience planning that can be brought to national scale. For more information, please visit ncdp.columbia.edu/rcrc.

You too can help your community get ready with a Prep Rally. Download Save the Children’s free Prep Rally guide books and lead preparedness activities with your local school, child care, camp or Girl Scout troop. Learn more at www.SavetheChildren.org/GetReady

Facing Challenges in the United States, Tax Policy Reform Thrives Abroad

Written by Andrew Wainer, Director of Policy Research, Policy and Humanitarian Response

This spring, Republicans are turning to tax reform, reaching for the policy win the Trump Administration badly needs. Like health care, tax reform is fraught with political pitfalls, making reforming the US’ outdated and complicated tax code another 2017 uphill policy battle.

But even as Congress and the Administration brace for conflict on domestic tax policy, US assistance to developing nations to improve their own tax systems has enjoyed years of bipartisan support.

Multiple US international development agencies – including USAID, PEPFAR, MCC, and the Treasury Department – provide tax policy and administration support to developing nations. The US is the seventh largest provider of domestic resource mobilization (DRM) assistance – as tax reform is called in the development arena. The goal of this advising and capacity-building is to help developing nations harness their public finance systems to better fund their own development and rely less on international development assistance.

Meeting Their Own Development Needs

Years of investment by developing nations themselves – with assistance from donors – has paid off as low-income nations have increased their tax-to-GDP ratio from about 10% during the 1990s to 15%; lower-middle income nations have increased the ratio from about 15% to 20%. This means developing nations are creating a larger tax base and generating more of the money needed to invest in their citizens’ health, education, and other development goals.

Getting tax reform right can have a major economic impact for developing nations: If India adopts its own current tax simplification proposal, it could inject an additional 2% of GDP into the massive South Asian economy by simplifying the tax code for businesses and individuals.

US support for tax reform in the developing world deserves continued support from Congress, not only on self-sufficiency grounds, but also in terms of strengthening governance in a world where the strong rule-of-law is increasingly viewed as the keystone to prosperity.

President Trump himself has emphasized fair taxation and repatriation of US corporate taxes as part of his domestic economic reform package, saying “I know a lot of bad people in this country that are making a hell of a lot of money and not paying taxes.”

And if we can get beyond the stigma of the word “tax,” supporting foreign assistance for DRM includes principles central to both the Democratic and Republican agendas. At its best, DRM assistance includes the following tenets:

DRM is Market Friendly

One of the primary goals of domestic resource mobilization (DRM) assistance abroad is creating the optimal conditions for market-based economic growth. DRM isn’t about soaking the rich, rather it’s aimed at ensuring that tax policy facilitates inclusive economic growth and development. DRM is about creating an attractive environment for domestic and international investment.

DRM Engages Citizens

As DRM enhances states’ capacity to collect and spend revenues, it also provides a platform for citizen engagement in public policy. DRM strengthens the citizen–state compact by ensuring that citizens have the opportunity to influence tax policy formulation and implementation. The OECD has stated, “taxation is integral to strengthening the effective functioning of the state and to the social contract between governments and citizens.”

DRM Reduces Bureaucracy

Part of making tax systems platforms for economic growth, rather than roadblocks, is reducing bureaucracy. DRM assistance includes quantitative goals of raising a developing nation’s tax-to-GDP ratio, but it also integrates the qualitative measure of how a tax system raises money, not just how much it raises.

DRM is about making paying taxes easier for citizens – removing red tape. This can include introducing information technology to make tax collection more efficient and less prone to corruption, simplifying the tax code, and providing better customer service to taxpayers by processing tax returns more quickly.

DRM Enhances Accountability

Of course, sometimes corrupt elites and organizations do game tax systems and part of increasing citizen engagement in tax policy includes increasing the fairness and equity in taxation. US DRM assistance to developing nations includes supporting policy changes to close loopholes for those who don’t pay their fair share.

While US’ DRM technical assistance is a tiny part of the overall US international development budget – for example $20 million per year at USAID – there is growing recognition of the need for donors and developing nations to invest more.

The US government momentum on DRM for developing nations is promising. To maintain it, we’ll need to solidify the transformation of “tax” from a curse word to a widely recognized means to increase citizen engagement in fiscal governance while building a supportive environment for inclusive economic growth.

Realizing the power of ownership

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This post was co-authored by Tariq Ahmad, Aid Effectiveness Researcher at Oxfam America, and Nora O’Connell, Associate Vice President, Public Policy & Advocacy at Save the Children.

As the world plans for the transfer of US political power, we should remember that not all US government policy should be subject to a partisan gladiatorial battle. Particularly on international assistance policy, there is a decades-old foundation of bipartisan comity on which to build.

The bipartisan embrace of country ownership – defined as development driven by local citizens in collaboration with their own governments – is one specific policy trend that deserves continued institutionalization and fortification, both to strengthen US relationships abroad, and to continue the world’s progress toward the elimination of extreme poverty.

Oxfam and Save the Children know from our own experiences that building local ownership into international assistance is one of the best ways to support sustainable and lasting development results. Ownership can strengthen a government’s ability to provide needed services to their own people and create political space for a country’s most marginalized citizens to hold their own governments accountable. Ownership’s greatest potential is its ability to tap into the natural drive – and resources — of citizens themselves to lift their communities and countries out of poverty.

This week, as part of Oxfam and Save the Children’s long-standing efforts to enhance local ownership of US development assistance, our organizations are jointly launching, “The Power of Ownership: Transforming US Foreign Assistance.” The core of this research report is an analysis of USAID and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) development projects in Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, and Rwanda that exemplify ownership best practice in US foreign assistance.

The examples in the report not only highlight the value of pursuing ownership, but also provide analysis, findings, and recommendations for practitioners and policymakers who want to strengthen the US’s commitment to ownership. To build on the bipartisan record of success that started with the administration of George W. Bush, and ensure the effectiveness of US development investments, it’s imperative that the next administration continue along the road to reform.

A Global Imperative

Though it accounts for less than 1 percent of the US federal budget, US foreign assistance provides dividends in the form of enhanced U.S. national security and economic prosperity. Using foreign assistance to fight extreme poverty globally creates more stable, prosperous, and democratic countries that are better allies and export markets for American businesses.

While tremendous progress has been made – extreme poverty has been cut by more than half – much more needs to be done.  Continuing to reform these programs can make this small investment can go even further.

How does that work? An ownership approach requires that US international assistance build local leadership and resources into programs, which means that we are not working alone — our investments are being leveraged by local resources, and the results are more likely to be sustained once the US leaves. America should not doing for other countries – it should be helping countries to do for themselves. It should not take on the responsibility of other governments to their people – it should help citizens hold their own governments accountable for their needs.

We witnessed the power of country ownership up close in Indonesia. In a low-income neighborhood in busy Jakarta, we met Ibu Heli, a community health volunteer who goes door to door, scanning her neighborhood for people infected with tuberculosis (TB). She then connects people with TB to local health services and helps them understand the importance of long-term care. USAID provided her with the training to be able to spot TB and respond to it in her community.

What makes this USAID project different is its direct partnership with a local health NGO that has a vast, existing network of devoted health volunteers like Heli. By focusing on existing systems, USAID was able to leverage what was already there to strengthen the “front-line” of Indonesian anti-TB efforts. And the flexibility embedded in the project meant that local organizations were able to adapt tactics based on the local context, which were sensitive to the stigma associated with the disease.

The transition to a new US administration is an opportunity for US international assistance to expand this approach, building genuine partnerships in developing countries and working through people like Heli in Indonesia. If we are to strengthen US security and global prosperity, more local leaders like her need to be given the responsibility and resources to lift their communities out of poverty, creating the space for vibrant citizen-voice that hold governments accountable.

Read the report and learn more about the research at powerofownership.org.

 

Save the Children Among First Charities to Accept Donations Using Apple Pay

 
r3_apple_pay_social_share_card31Looking for a faster, easier, more secure way to give? Save the Children is excited to announce that supporters can now donate using Apple Pay.

 

Save the Children has a long history of innovation in our work and in ways donors can support our mission to serve children, and because of this, we’re thrilled to be among the first charities to offer Apple Pay. As mobile payments and digital wallets become more and more popular, we want to make sure that our supporters can help children around the world in the way they feel most comfortable.

 

“Save the Children is excited to accept Apple Pay to make it easier for our supporters to donate to our programs benefitting children around the world,” said Carolyn Miles, Save the Children’s President & CEO. “We’re embracing this new technology that makes supporting our work easier, faster, and safer.”

 

This isn’t the first time we were first movers in digital payments for charitable giving. As an early adopter of PayPal, Bitcoin, PaySafeCard, G2A Pay Wallet, YouTube donate cards and Facebook donate buttons, we continue to look for ways to adopt to consumer demand by providing a variety of secure and easy ways to give to our mission.

 

With Apple Pay, donating on our website is now as simple as the touch of a finger with Touch ID, so there’s no need to manually fill out lengthy account forms or repeatedly type in billing information.

 

Apple Pay is easy for users to set up, but most importantly, security and privacy is at its core. When supporters use a credit or debit card with Apple Pay, the actual card numbers are not stored on the device, nor on Apple servers. Instead, a unique Device Account Number is assigned, encrypted and securely stored in the Secure Element on your device. Each transaction is authorized with a one-time unique dynamic security code.

 

When supporting our mission on the go, Apple Pay works with iPhone 6 and later, iPad Pro, iPad Air 2, and iPad mini 3 and later. You can also use Apple Pay in Safari on any Mac introduced in or after 2012 running macOS Sierra and confirm the payment with iPhone 6 or later or Apple Watch.

 

To donate to Save the Children using Apple Pay, visit: www.savethechildren.org/ApplePay

The Lost Days of Summer

Lost Days of Summer

Who doesn’t love summer? For millions of kids around the country, it’s a time to have fun and experience new adventures on family vacations, at camp or through locally-organized summer activities. But these experiences are often out of reach for the more than 15 million U.S. children growing up in poverty. Especially those in isolated rural communities such as the small town where Alayshia, 8, lives in Orangeburg County, South Carolina.

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As a result, children from low-income families typically fall two to three months behind in math and reading each summer. Meanwhile, more privileged children keep advancing during those same summer months. Summer learning loss is the biggest reason why children from disadvantaged backgrounds are often three years behind their peers by the time they reach fifth grade¹. Where Alayshia and her brother live, there are no summer programs for them to attend.

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There aren’t many places for them to go either. Sometimes, Alayshia, 8, walks to a nearby friend’s house or her uncle’s. The closest library is tiny and only opens for a few hours on certain days of the week. There is no swimming pool, rec center, or summer camp within reach. “We used to have a little pool,” Alayshia says. “It’s on the trash pile now because it got a hole in it.”

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Alayshia’s mother Novella recently got laid off from the factory where she’s worked on and off for 13 years. After Alayshia eats breakfast and plays video games in the morning, her mom has her and her brother sit down to do some math worksheets and practice reading for half an hour. “I wish there was a summer program for them to go to,” Novella says.

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In neighboring Barnwell County, South Carolina, Ja’Faith wakes up every morning at 5 when her father, a food service manager, returns from letting the milkman into her school. They often read together over breakfast, then Ja’Faith and her brothers play while waiting for the bus to take them to Save the Children’s SummerBoost Camp at their school.

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Ja’Faith, 8, had a tough start in life that her adoptive parents haven’t yet fully explained to her. But they say her early experiences made concentrating in a typical classroom setting challenging. The way SummerBoost Camp mixes games and physical activity with academics has been a big hit with Ja’Faith.

“She loves the program. She hasn’t missed a day,” says her dad, Jack.

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Ja’Faith looks forward to attending SummerBoost each day. “It’s fun,” she says. “I like to learn.”

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At SummerBoost Camp, the day gets started with a call and response game that get the kids excited for a day of learning and fun. Children rotate through blocks of academically-focused activities and games, as well as community service, physical activity and team building.

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The summer program also includes two healthy meals – breakfast and lunch. During the school year, some local kids show up for school hungry on Mondays. For many, the summer months would be especially tough if they couldn’t eat at camp. “They get fed and they stay off the streets,” says Jack. Together with the learning, it’s a winning combination, he says. “Now when school opens up, it’s just a refresher course and they’re ready to go. They didn’t sit around and just watch TV all day or eat popcorn and chips.”

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During the school year, Ja’Faith participates in Save the Children’s after school program, which focuses on helping struggling readers catch up. She has made steady progress through the school year, and her SummerBoost coaches – and her friends – keep her motivated and learning all summer long. That helped Ja’Faith start first grade strong last year and even make the honor role. Her dad says, “I asked Faye a few times ‘What do you want to be? What do you want to do?’ She would always say ‘I want to work for Save the Children, or save a child in some kind of way.’”

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Since SummerBoost runs for six hours, Save the Children can expand its after school focus on literacy and health to cover the “STEAM” subjects – science, technology, engineering, art and math. Here, Ja’Faith and her brother have fun playing a game that helps them practice math equations.

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Back in Orangeburg County, Alayshia and her brother make up their own games in their backyard. When she started second grade at the end of last summer, Alayshia tested as reading at a low first-grade level. Over the course of the school year, Save the Children’s after school program helped her catch up and even reach a third-grade reading level. “She made a whole lot of progress, and I’m proud of her for making that progress,” her mom says. “Now, I’m afraid she might fall off back off and then have to work her way back up to that same progress.”

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With no funding to provide SummerBoost at Alayshia’s school, all that her Save the Children literacy tutors could do at the end of the school year was send home some books with Alayshia and encourage her to keep up her reading. But with no summer program, she also won’t get the extra help she needs in math, which was a big struggle for her this past year. When she returns to school next month, Alayshia will be repeating the second grade.

To learn more about Save the Children’s US Programs, please visit our website

Photo Essay by Susan Warner
Story by Tanya Weinberg

¹Cooper, H., Borman G., & Fairchild, R. (2010). “School Calendars and Academic Achievement.” In J. Meece & J. Eccles (eds.) Handbook on Research on Schools, Schooling, and Human Development (pp. 342-355).