Dallas ISD Aims to Begin Education for Children at Birth

Happy child little girl reading a book.
Toddler reading a book. | Image from Inna Reznik

Dallas ISD aims to set a plan in motion for babies and toddlers to receive additional support in beginning their education before they reach three years of age.

Their mission is to provide families with beneficial information that will help children in perform better in school. The school system is calling the project Start Strong Dallas!

At a board meeting, trustee Dustin Marshall said, “From my perspective, there is no wiser investment we could be making than in zero- to three-year-olds. These are our future students.”

Educators have seen students experience skill or knowledge gaps when they arrive at school. Most of these issues stem from lack of resources or the lack of time parents are able to contribute toward detecting if their child is behind developmentally.

According to the assistant superintendent of early learning, Elena Hill, about 90% of a child’s brain develops before age 5. Research shows that much of this growth happens before a child ever gets to a formal education setting. Dallas ISD wants to prepare students well before they enter the school system, during this critical stage for their growing brains.

Jill Allor, professor in Southern Methodist University’s teaching and learning department, also said numerous parents are not sure how to assist their children in forming language from birth. Allor said, “It’s clearly very important to get families information early on to make sure that oral language development is progressing as it should and to give them support,”

Officials plan to work with pediatricians and others within the community, such as hairdressers and barbers, to provide educational material that can be passed along to parents. The materials will include information explaining how they can enroll their children into school programs and how to assist them at home.

Hill supports the district’s decision, reasoning, “Why not give a child a book while they’re getting their hair done? Or have an educational activity or a book that a child can take home when a mother is getting her hair done?”

Chelsea Jeffrey, the director of PK-12 Strategic Initiatives at the Commit Partnership, believes it is also important to provide support to all caregivers and childcare centers since children are not always in parents’ care.

Dallas ISD officials have received almost unanimous support from school board members. However, trustee Joyce Foreman disagreed with the district’s decision, emphasizing that current students need assistance, “If we are not taking care of our core competency, why are we interested in another space to start with?”

Other board members such as Marshall reiterated that it is crucial to support children while they are young versus once they are in higher grade levels.

He said, “For us to think that we should just take a first-grader when they show up or just take a pre-K student when they show up and then be responsible for closing all those learning gaps when instead we could invest from the time they’re born … the repercussions of that investment will make it all that much easier to educate them when they show up on our doorstep.”

Several early childhood experts believe Dallas ISD is on the right track in educating children earlier. Allor said, “The sooner you start, the better the outcomes. There’s no question about it.”

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