Vroom program steers parents as teachers

  • A team of Save the Children professionals will be implementing Vroom in Barnwell County, including (from left) Brittany Daniels, Early Steps to School Success (ESSS) Coordinator at Barnwell Primary School (BPS); Regina Baxley, ESSS Coordinator at Macedonia Elementary School (MES); Alexandria Tobin, ESSS Coordinator at Kelly Edwards Elementary School (KEES); Eartha Holmes, ESSS Coordinator at KEES; Dorothy Dukes, ESSS Coordinator at BPS; Annie Walters, Community Engagement Specialist for South Carolina; Stephanie Mead, Community Ambassador for BPS; Lakisha Bowman, ESSS Program Specialist; Trina Burt, ESSS Coordinator at MES; and Alicia Williams, Community Ambassador at MES.

A new early learning initiative is looking to drive the growth and development of young brains.

Save the Children is partnering with Vroom, an initiative of the Bezos Family Foundation, in communities that have the Early Steps to School Success (ESSS) program. This includes Barnwell County where there are ESSS programs in all three public school districts.

“It teaches parents how simple interactions can build brain capacity,” said Lakisha Bowman, an Early Steps to School Success Program Specialist with Save the Children.

Vroom is a research-based program that targets children from birth to five years old. It’s based on the premise that children are born with “tremendous potential” as there are trillions of neural connections made in the first five years of life. Bowman said 80 percent of a person’s brain is developed by age five.

Vroom doesn’t require money or fancy educational toys. Instead, it focuses on three scientific principles, including positive relationships, back-and-forth interactions, and life skills that promote executive functions, said Bowman.

“Positive, supportive experiences with adults help your child’s brain grow strong and flexible. That makes you your child’s No. 1 brain builder,” according to www.vroom.org of the role of parents and guardians. “Using the latest science on early childhood development, Vroom helps you turn everyday moments into brain building moments.”

Bowman said there are various age-appropriate activities that parents can use at home, including through Vroom’s app. This includes activities where parents can use daily activities such as washing dishes and taking a bath to help their children’s brains develop.

Vroom also utilizes home visitors who work one-on-one with families of young children. Each school district has an early childhood coordinator who conducts in-home visits with parents to show them some tips and best practices.

Trina Burt, an early childhood coordinator in Blackville, said she sees many parents who lack confidence in believing they can teach their children. However, she gives each one a mirror that includes the phrase “You already have what it takes to be a brain builder”.

Dorothy Dukes is the early steps coordinator for Barnwell District 45. She said she matches activities for the families she works with. She also models lessons for parents and then gets them to do the lesson.

“The parent is their child’s first teacher,” said Eartha Holmes, Williston’s early childhood coordinator. She encourages parents to be careful of what they say because children are always listening.

Save the Children also has community ambassadors who are helping with Vroom. Currently, Barnwell and Blackville each have one while they are in the process of hiring an ambassador for Williston.

Stephanie Mead, the community ambassador for Barnwell Primary School, said Vroom is important because statistics show the importance of high quality early education. Disadvantaged children who do not participate in high quality early education are 70 percent more likely to be arrested later for a violent crime, 40 percent more likely to be a teen parent, 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education, and 60 percent more likely to never go to college, according to statistics provided at a Jan. 30 meeting at the Barnwell County Library where Save the Children staff invited community partners to learn more about Vroom.

Locally, there are 1,387 children under age five, including 38.2 percent who live in poverty. According to recent data, 48.5 percent of local third graders fail to meet math standards while 71.3 percent fall below standards for reading, said Mead.

There are several local challenges for early childhood development, including lack of transportation, limited childcare centers, parents who do not have a high school diploma, lack of employment, limited resources, and young/teen parents.

Mead said they are starting weekly school readiness classes for children ages 3-5 and their parents. These free classes focus on early literacy and pre-math skills, and include snacks and activities. They are targeting children ages 3-5 who are not in preschool. The first class will be Tuesday, Feb. 13 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at the Barnwell County Library.

Official Vroom launch events will be held in the three towns in the future. In the meantime, Mead said they are looking for partners to join them in the initiative, including people to serve on a steering committee and others to serve as key messengers in the community.

Learn more about Vroom at www.vroom.org. Anyone interested in being a partner in Vroom or enrolling with their 3- to 5-year-old in the free school readiness classes should call Stephanie Mead at (803) 541-1320 or email smead@bsd45.net.