Our new header depicts a fun scene from our most recent summer leadership camp and the T.O.U.C.H. group from the Bozeman area. T.O.U.C.H. is a group for area teens age 11-17 focused on community service and leadership, their title representing “Teens Outreach Uniting Community Help”. This summer camp is made possible through the generous support of Mountain Sky Guest Ranch Fund, The Walter and Lucille Braun Family Gift Fund, The Bozeman Community Foundation and the First Interstate BancSystem Foundation. And a special thanks to the kind people at Lion’s Ridge Camp.
Hopa Mountain’s StoryMakers program invests in 6,000+ of our youngest citizens, children 0-5, for future success in life. Linda Clark heads up the StoryMakers program with a devout dedication to early childhood learning. StoryMakers is an early learning initiative that offers parents of children ages 0-5 early literacty resources and children’s books to support them in creating a home environment that gives their children the best chances for success in school. A growing body of research confirms that a strong early-learning home environment predicts children’s success in school. Success in school strongly predicts health and economic self-sufficiency in adulthood. All of the work is handled from within the communities, ensuring that this early childhood learning initiative is the work of local citizen leaders. StoryMakers is made possible with generous support from the U.S. Department of Education through W.O.R.D., Inc., and the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, the O.P. and W.E. Edwards Foundation, the Steele-Reese Foundation, the Jerry Metcalf Foundation, and Hopa Mountain members.
When Hopa Mountain formed in 2004, research showed that “any community interested in community development should focus on early childhood education”, and that enforced Linda’s passion to dedicate her efforts on the youngest members of communities. The real-world interpretation of these efforts comes in the form of children’s book distributions along with information to parents (primary caregivers) so as to utilize these educational building blocks to their fullest extent.
It is crucial to know that this program is not about teaching preschoolers how to read, but more about creating positive “language experiences”, such as talking, singing, cooing, and asking questions of infants. Linda realized years ago that proper development is experience-dependant, that educational awareness is created through personal interaction and exposure. “Our purpose is parents”, said Linda, emphasizing that the information given to parents concerning the importance of language is as important a tool as the children’s books.
StoryMakers serves as the first step of ‘trickle up’ education, meaning that they work on the earliest levels of educational capacity building that better prepares individuals for further childhood learning. The 1990s, or ‘the Decade of the Brain’ as Linda referenced it, saw massive technological leaps in the discovery of what happens in brain development in the earliest stages of life. In short, studies showed that the educational capacity can be broadened long before the child can formally communicate. During the first year, the child’s brain is highly susceptible, malleable, to outside forces. The ability to detect activity in the brain of such young individuals showed, for the first time, that the brain is rapidly creating a foundation for which it will interact and absorb information throughout the child’s life. These fascinating findings are easily summed up with Linda’s conclusion that “what happens early really matters.”
But the real-world translation of these scientific studies is that parents reading with their new additions and communicating with and around the youngest children can and will have a productive impact on their learning capacities. An added benefit is the emotionally positive environment that is created through communicating with infants and toddlers. Linda suggests that parents talk and sing to their babies as soon as they’re born The sheer act of being exposed to communication is greatly beneficial to the developing brain. The donated StoryMakers books act as springboards to increase the opportunity for positive communication with young children.
Advocates of early childhood learning have called it “the Civil Rights Issue of our time”. Opportunities are unequal on the basis of income, location, and race, all of which have shown to affect children’s capacity to broaden their learning potential. Surprisingly, time for reading with young children is a luxury that not all family units can easily afford.Oftentimes, the time is not made available, and these strong benefits have not been made available. Linda, as well as everyone else involved with the program, believes that proper education of the benefits will help parents and caregivers find time to invest in their children’s future. Through her own research and findings, Linda concluded that, “a lack of a loving, consistent primary caregiver leads to a lack of development” and again stressed that “the basic ability to learn is impacted early on”, proclaiming the benefits of personal language experience.
Leading economists make similar claims. “Skill begets skill and competency begets competency,” says Nobel Prize-winner James J. Heckman in a 2006 article in the journal Science entitled “Skill Formation and the Economics of Investing in Disadvantaged Children”. Focusing his work on how to make the future US workforce competitive in a global marketplace, Heckman says improvement in very early childhood education for our most vulnerable children is the best economic development investment we can make for our communities and our nation. He cites longitudinal studies proving the positive accumulating effects – to individuals and to society at large – of a concerted effort in building foundational skills before formal schooling in the US now begins.
In November, StoryMakers team members from all over the state will convene in Bozeman to go over new materials and coordinate their strategic distribution strategies. Currently, there are 45 community members working in 11 counties who receive information from Linda concerning StoryMakers updates. All of the work is handled from within the communities, according to Linda’s visions that this early childhood learning initiative “should be the work of local citizen leaders”. For more information on the StoryMakers program, please visit www.hopamountain.org/StoryMakers.html.