November 20, 2017

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PNC Bank’s $350 Million Early Learning Push | First Steps

Banks are not traditionally known for innovating with early childhood education programs—or for acting as cheerleaders for a Guinness Book of World Records challenge, for that matter. Yet PNC Bank, based in Pittsburgh, PA, is a happy exception on both counts as it builds strong partnerships with libraries and other cultural institutions around early learning.

Slj1501-FirstSteps-PNC-GrowGreatThis past October, the PNC Bank Foundation announced a $1 million grant to North Carolina’s Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (CML), along with Discover Place (a hands-on science museum) and the Community School of the Arts. The multiyear vocabulary initiative will focus on underserved pre-K children and their families as part of PNC foundation’s larger Grow Up Great campaign that works toward bridging the 30 million word gap, often cited in research. The 1995 study, by Betty Hart and Todd Risley, showed that low-income children hear 30 million fewer spoken words, on average, by the age of four compared to their higher-income peers.

According to the PNC Foundation website, Grow Up Great is a $350 million bilingual initiative begun in 2004 to help prepare children from birth to age five for success in school and life. To date, the program has served more than two million children around the country. PNC partners with Sesame Workshop, the National Head Start Association, and the Fred Rogers Company—it was also a sponsor of the 2014 Fostering Lifelong Learners event, from SLJ and The Horn Book. Sesame Workshop created a multimedia, early learning kit for this latest initiative of Grow Up Great, called “Words Are Here, There, and Everywhere.” The bilingual educational kit (in English and Spanish) builds on young children’s natural curiosity to grow their vocabulary around math concepts, science, and the arts. Materials are available for free at PNC Bank branches and at Sesame Street. Libraries can share it with local partners, such as Head Start sites, universal pre-K programs, and other early literacy agencies.

CML is focusing its efforts in Grier Heights, a mostly low-income, African American neighborhood; and the Montclaire South neighborhood, which is also low-income and has many Spanish-speaking and immigrant families. Because a key finding in the 1995 study was that low income children hear shorter, less descriptive sentences at home, one of the main objectives the library has is to encourage families and caregivers to lengthen sentences spoken and use more descriptive language. Working with community partners ensures that young children will receive the same consistent message surrounding word usage, whether they are visiting the library or the Discovery Center. The library’s two-year project will also include weekly family time, a resource kit called a “Box of Wonder,” a museum pass, and summer school programming.

What could you do locally with $10,000? $1,000? Create your own early learning game plan. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to start a 1K Before K program, or you want to create early learning kits that can be circulated to caregivers and parents to extend learning opportunities into a young child’s home. Dream. Create. Inspire. Then bottle up some of that enthusiasm and take it with you when you go talk to a small business owner in the community and ask them to back your initiative. Every dollar devoted to early learning helps another young child get a jump-start in life.

And that Guinness Book of World Records challenge? Well, on October 30, 2014, as part of Grow Up Great, more than 1,000 pre-K students and their teachers in 37 cities simultaneously used the same vocabulary lesson and book to participate in the largest vocabulary lesson recorded to date. Peter Brown’s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild (Little, Brown, 2013) was featured during this large-scale record breaker that had young readers learning the following vocabulary words: stripes, patience, magnificent, and wilderness. In Pittsburgh, 233 Head Start and pre-K children got an extra bonus that day as author Peter Brown himself joined the group to share some of his childhood drawings and the first book that he created—at age six. Now that’s something to roar about!

This article was published in School Library Journal's January 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Lisa G. Kropp About Lisa G. Kropp

Lisa G. Kropp is the assistant director of the Lindenhurst Memorial Library in Lindenhurst, NY, and a forever children’s librarian.

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