In addition to waiting for the ball in Times Square to drop on Dec. 31, signaling the end of one year and the beginning of another, the news media pay a lot of attention to the first child born in cities and counties throughout the country.

The New Year’s baby is usually celebrated with a photograph on the front page of the local newspaper and mentions on television newscasts, and often goes home with a bounty of gifts provided by the hospital and the manufacturers of baby products.

That’s nice.

But what if the parents of every newborn left the hospital armed with information to set their infants on a path of learning, beginning at birth, the process of preparing the child for school?

That is what will happen beginning Friday at North Hills Hospital in North Richland Hills with the first baby born in 2010, and the approximately 1,200 newborns to follow in the new year.

Our first teachers are our parents, yet we hear educators bemoan the fact that they can’t get enough parents interested in their children’s education. We also know that it is generally too late to wait until a child gets to school to begin the learning process.

In fact, a baby’s language development begins while still in the womb, according to Debbie Cates, director of women’s services at North Hills.

The folks at the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district, and some others in our area, realize the importance of trying to reach kids before they enter kindergarten. Two years ago, the district formed the HEB Preschool Partnership with local private and commercial preschools and day care centers, a representative said. In addition to offering professional development for the day care employees, the district also provides parental training.

This coming year, H-E-B has decided to take the step to get involved with future students from birth with its “Cradle to Classroom” program, in partnership with North Hills Hospital.

“To our knowledge, this is the first program of its kind,” Superintendent Gene Buinger said in a statement. “We don’t know of any other school district that is reaching out to parents of newborn children to help provide a solid educational foundation from birth.”

When newborns leave North Hills, the district said, their parents will be given a packet that “contains a welcome letter from Dr. Buinger, a brochure with advice on early childhood activities that form the basis for learning in school, a set of laminated Born Learning cards donated by the United Way Northeast that offers parenting tips, the district’s Schools of Choice folder, which outlines unique academic programs available only in H-E-B ISD, and a Cradle to Classroom baby bib.”

Assistant Superintendent Deborah Tribble was genuinely excited when she called to tell me about this new program, because as a longtime educator she knows too well the harm to a child who is ill-prepared to start school.

Children who start behind in school too often stay behind in school,” she said.

Tribble reeled off some other sobering facts:

Children who do not know the alphabet when they enter kindergarten are behind in reading by the end of kindergarten.

Forty-four out of 50 first-graders who have problems reading will still have problems reading in the fourth grade.

Forty percent of new kindergarten students are not fully prepared for school.

Too many children from families of all socioeconomic groups are not ready for school, Tribble said, noting that “the skills of children in their first year of school range from those of a 2-year-old to a 9-year-old.” Imagine how that issue alone poses problems for teachers and the classroom learning experience.

“If parents have the tools to teach their children when they are infants, they will be ready for preschool or any type of school setting,” Buinger said. “We are so pleased that North Hills Hospital understands the importance of early education and has become our partner.”

This is the kind of progressive thinking we need. Public educators cannot sit around wringing their hands and **wishing for more parental involvement. They must be much more proactive.**

In Tarrant County, I’ve seen other programs (through the YWCA, United Way and Tarrant County Day Care Association, for example) that are making great strides in trying to prepare very young children for school and helping parents learn how to help educate their children.

The H-E-B district is teaching us by example that it is never too early to start educating a child. (…)


Source: Fort Worth Star Telegram –