JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There’s a great divide in the state of Florida when it comes to reading. Numbers released from the Florida Department of Education during the 2020 school year show minority students are falling behind. Only 34% of African American students are reading at grade level compared to 63% of whites in the state.
Reading habits are formed long before a child hits kindergarten and there’s help to level the playing field for all families. Episcopal Children’s Services is trying to close the gap. The organization starts working with babies, encouraging qualified families to enroll in quality early education programs.
Bryson Brown is only 2½ years old but he’s a veteran in the ECS Early Headstart Program. He started in August 2020 when he was only 6 months old. His mom Joy Brown says it was a good fit from the beginning.
“He has enjoyed it from day one. And so, I’ve never had any issues with him not wanting to come,” Brown said.
Joy and Bryan Brown enrolled their baby hoping to give him an opportunity to learn some early skills. It was near their house, and they were drawn to the program because of the focus on education. These parents watched their shy baby blossom into a little guy who loves to learn.
“One thing I learned is that he is an auditory learner. So, I found that out, so he loves any type of nursery rhymes,” Brown said.
Jamillah Abdullah has been with Episcopal Children’s Services for more than 30 years and she’s currently a family advocate.
“He’s made tremendous gains, like I said, he was never the type of child that liked to join in play. He would parallel play a lot with the children. But as you say, today, he really engages. That’s part of the teachers’ strategy,” Abdullah said.
Abdullah has watched Bryson’s progress, but she also gets to know the entire family.
“We work with the parents. And so, the parents may have quite a bit going on in your lives. They just need somebody to listen to them. So we have to build that trust and listen to them, and then have to walk through something that they need you to walk with them,” Abdullah said.
It’s a whole family approach. Teaching not only the kids but parents how to set realistic goals and providing resources at home to help the learning continue around the clock.
“It’s only a small portion of what they can do at the Learning Center, or school or anything, I have to have those things at home to incorporate so that he continues to get what it is that he needs,” Brown said.
“I would really like to look at the families that have come through these centers, and we’ve made a difference in their lives,” Abdullah said.
Episcopal Children’s Services offers several programs for newborns up until kindergarten.
Their website has all the information to see if you’re eligible and how to register.
ECS has 16 centers in 14 counties in North and Central Florida. Its biggest fundraiser is Wine, Women and Shoes. They’re sold out but if you want to help there are still ways to participate in the silent auction, wall of wine, or just by donating. Just go to the website for more info.