Strengthening Community through Vroom

Written by Sandra Anthony, Save the Children Ambassador, Marion County School District, Mississippi

Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much – Helen Keller

For me, “community” is rooted in fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals. One of the most important obligations of a community is to make sure that its children have a chance at a successful future. Protecting vulnerable young members of the community who do not have a voice – from neglect, poverty, abuse and violence – is essential. It is also the community’s responsibility to promote education.

When I became community and kindergarten readiness ambassador for Vroom, an initiative of the Bezos Family Foundation, my eyes were opened to the need for more educational development in our small, rural community of Foxworth, Mississippi. We did not have the resources for parents to support their children’s learning outside of school and the closest library is 30 miles away. Many families lack transportation. I knew there had to be a way to inform parents how important it is to educate young children at home before entering kindergarten. Yet, for families living in poverty, parents often wake up in survival mode and stressed about whether they can pay the electric bill or stretch the food supply. As a result, I found that many parents were forgetting to take an active part in the education of their children.

The arrival of Vroom transformed our community.

With the help of Vroom tips, I was able to connect with local businesses and churches in the community and demonstrate how they could support early child education. To reach a broader area, I set up a social media Vroom page highlighting how easy it is to incorporate Vroom into everyday activities. I literally saw the community begin to light up! I began to receive feedback from parents on how they incorporated Vroom into small daily tasks like cleaning, bathing and riding in a car. Understanding the need for these resources, stores allowed me to put up posters and flyers. I created Vroom placemats for restaurants to pass out to families waiting for their meals so they were able to have a literacy experience together. Three churches allowed me to come speak about Vroom. During these events, I would have Vroom pamphlets, posters, tip cards, shirts, keychains and books to distribute. At the community’s fall festival event, children were able to pick pumpkins with tips attached to them. As the word spread, people would actually stop me as I walked down the street or call and say that they had seen my posters and wanted to know more about the five basics of Vroom (Look, Chat, Follow, Stretch, and Take Turns).

It was during these conversations that I met Katheryn Lowery and her daughter, Abby Raye (at left). Mrs. Lowery stated that she was 36 when she found out she was expecting. She was not familiar with Vroom techniques and did not believe she had the skills to teach her daughter. What an opportunity, to share with her that she already had what it takes to be a brain builder. Now when I see her, Katheryn tells me how much she loves Vroom tips and how she is better equipped as a parent to support and identify appropriate development milestones for Abby Raye.

Enthusiasm for Vroom throughout the community has continued to grow, and local leaders, businesses and churches have become Vroom partners. At a local collaborative meeting, I gave community leaders the opportunity to try Vroom tips out themselves. Mark Rogers, a local journalist, and Chief Deputy Sheriff Jamie Singley couldn’t hold back their laughter as they practice the “Smile and Wink” activity. By taking part in actual Vroom activities, community leaders experienced the actual effect of the Vroom tips versus just listening to the benefits that they offer. After the meeting, these leaders went out and continued to spread the word about the importance of early learning for children.

Vroom has strengthened our community in many ways. Law enforcement personnel share Vroom tips and books with children during security checkpoints. Medical clinics display Vroom posters and books in waiting rooms and the local custard stand gives out information at their drive-through window. Child protective services has mandated that parents who have had their children taken away attend the Vroom Play & Learn groups to increase their knowledge of early literacy to help them regain custody of their children. The local newspaper publishes articles highlighting the importance of Vroom for early development and local radio station invited me on air to emphasize the benefits of Vroom.

Without the support of community and the Vroom initiative, it would have been impossible for me to reach out to the families in Marion County and share strategies to help children learn early. However, with community support, the children entering kindergarten this year in Marion County are much better prepared for success. Helen Keller was right; alone we can do so little, together we can do so much more.

 

To learn more about how Vroom is innovating Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success program, visit our website.

 

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

To learn more about how Vroom is innovating Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success program, visit our website.