Providence Talks hits its initial goal of reaching 2,500 young children

Mayor and others celebrate this achievement, but also note ‘it’s just the beginning’

“Providence Talks will serve as a model across the country and around the world,” predicted Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza at a press conference held at Ready to Learn Providence on February 27. The event was held to mark an important milestone – Providence Talks had met its initial goal of reaching 2,500 young children in the city since it won the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge in 2013.

“The results have been phenomenal in terms of changing behavior and outcomes,” the mayor continued, adding that he has allocated $500,000 for the continuation of its work in Providence in 2018. “Providence Talks plays an important part in the city’s cradle-to-career initiative.”

“Providence Talks provides parents and caregivers with an opportunity to transform the trajectory of their child’s education,” explained Caitlin Molina, executive director of Providence Talks. “We’re proud to serve as a national model to cities around the world that wish to start their own efforts to close the word gap.”

“The exciting thing is this is just the beginning,” noted Leslie Gell, director of Ready to Learn Providence, which has collaborated with Providence Talks on a professional development model of the program. “Over 250 educators working with infants and toddlers in programs throughout the city have completed this professional development series and, thanks to the technology, we know educators are learning and implementing strategies that support language and literacy development… With an educator you are not only reaching the children she is teaching now, but every other child she will ever teach.”

The unique technology Providence Talks uses –  a “talk pedometer” – counts the number of words and conversational interactions children experience throughout the day. In the professional development model, it is the educators, not the children, who wear the pedometer.

“By collecting this data, we could see that the teachers who took the professional development class increased their word count by 7,000 words a day,” noted Khadija Lewis Khan, director of the Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center in Providence. All of the teachers at Beautiful Beginnings who work with infants and toddlers have participated in the program.

Family child-care provider Nuris Ynoa was part of the first cohort in the professional development model. “I know now that the little ones can engage verbally,” she said at the press conference. “I spend much more time talking with them.”

The results for the first professional development series that Ready to Learn developed were so remarkable that it has since developed a second series for those who completed the first.

Last year both Providence Talks and Ready to Learn became programs of The School of Continuing Studies at Roger Williams University. In January Providence Talks left its former quarters in Providence’s City Hall and moved in with Ready to Learn at 945 Westminster Street. The physical proximity, say Leslie and Caitlin, will facilitate further collaboration.

Photos from top: Leslie Gell, left, and Caitlin Molina; Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza; Caitlin Molina (photo courtesy of Ed Fitzpatrick); the audience at R2LP; Khadija Lewis Khan; and Nuris Ynoa, left, with Yeimy Bakemon-Morel, who translated.

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