Come on Oakland—WE CAN DO THIS!!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the meeting and press conference with Secretary Clinton and community leaders to announce the launch of the Too Small to Fail Initiative in Oakland. I must admit, I was impressed and excited about the opportunity for Oaklanders to provide Oakland’s children with the foundations for literacy that will place them on track for educational success.

The Too Small to Fail Campaign is organized around closing “the word gap” – the fact that far too many low-income children enter school having heard up to 30 million fewer words than their middle class counterparts. The word gap has big implications for the brain development, vocabularies, and readiness for school of low-income children. The fewer words children hear and learn, the more likely they are to experience an achievement gap, which persists through the preschool and kindergarten years. Too Small To Fail has crafted an initiative that is elegant in its simplicity. The word gap can be closed if parents do three things every day with their children from birth: talk to them, read to them, sing to them.

Two things, in particular, fascinate me about the approach. First is that every parent and caregiver can do these things, regardless of income, education level, or primary language. It takes only effort and attention. As Secretary Clinton pointed out, even for parents who are insecure about their reading ability, the baby does not know you do not read well. Even if you cannot read, get books with pictures and describe the pictures. For non-English speaking parents who are afraid that speaking, reading and singing to their children in their native language might affect their English language formation, there is actually a benefit: learning English and another language promotes all word development and that is what’s important for kids.

The second thing that fascinates me about the approach is that it is empowering for parents, especially those who often feel badly because they lack the money to provide their children with some of the material things they need. Think of how empowered a parent can feel when they learn that their child is right on track in their literacy skill development upon entering preschool or kindergarten as a result of what they did! Having accomplished something so significant at this early stage, parents will be empowered, with the right tools, to make important contributions throughout their child’s PK-12 education.

Through a partnership of the Clinton Foundation, Next Generation, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, Kaiser Permanente, and the Bay Area Council, Oakland yesterday became the second site in the nation to pilot this innovative program. Oaklanders and their children have been given a special gift with this opportunity. We can, as parents and community, make a profound difference in getting our children on a pathway to educational success. We must seize the opportunity, make this effort successful, and move up the educational ladder with similar strategies for parents to positively impact their children’s education success by doing the right things, within their control, that don’t cost, but yield significant results. Urban Strategies Council intends to work with the national and local partners to make this a successful effort for our children.

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