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Child development: The Urban Child Institute, WLOK form outreach partnership

UrbanChild-600One of the leading child advocacy organizations in Shelby County and one of the oldest locally-owned radio stations in the Mid-South are joining forces to take their messages to the streets, literally.

The Urban Child Institute recently formed a new partnership with WLOK to increase awareness for best practices to promote optimal brain development in young children from birth to age three.

The shared commitment from both partners is to ensure that more parents have access to information and resources that will help to position their child for academic and career success.

Each month, WLOK will select a different pre-k, head-start, or early childcare provider located in Memphis and Shelby County to visit and gift with materials produced by The Urban Child Institute (TUCI). The materials are to help WLOK and TUCI build upon their respective efforts to help children develop the foundational tools needed to succeed in school and later in life.

Tarrin McGhee-200Each provider will then share the materials received with parents and or caregivers of the children being served in their facility.

"We believe that in order to truly advance education and economic conditions in Shelby County, greater emphasis must be placed on early childhood development," said Katy Spurlock, TUCI's director of Education and Dissemination.

"This new partnership with WLOK allows us the opportunity to engage in more direct community outreach to parents, and build strategic alliances with providers who also understand the significant impact that quality early care has on one's life."

Research shows that the first three years are the most influential in predicting future outcomes. During this timeframe, everything that a child experiences will shape her mental foundation for learning as the brain will grow to reach 80 percent of adult size.

In their Pre-K Readiness Begins at Birth parenting guide, The Urban Child Institute offers a road map of steps to take to encourage language and speech; nurture creative thinking ability and independence; and cultivate emotional and social skills such as problem solving, self-control and self-confidence. The guide, in addition to other materials that each center director will be given to distribute to parents, also outlines signs of healthy brain development to watch for along the way.

For gospel station WLOK, whose programming is directed primarily to the African American community, the partnership with TUCI is an integral component to accomplish a long-held goal that all broadcast engines maintain – to keep its listeners informed.

Historically, radio has been viewed as a primary vehicle to disseminate news and information to the masses, and its influence and staying power is undeniable.

For decades, WLOK has been regarded as a respected source for entertainment and news in Memphis, and has also established itself as a trusted voice in addressing social and civil challenges. Today, President and CEO Art Gilliam remains committed to using his platform and airwaves to shift attitudes for the greater good of the Mid-South community.

As changes in the local education landscape become more prevalent, Gilliam believes it's important to not lose sight of the common goal shared by parents, educators, government leaders and community residents.

"No matter who you are, what you do, or where you live, everyone wants the best for their kids," he said. "So let's start talking about basic things we can all do to produce ideal outcomes for our children and our entire city.

"By partnering with The Urban Child Institute, our goal is to let parents know that there are ways to stack the odds in your child's favor, and sometimes it just requires willingness to learn about and try a different approach."

Often, new parents and working parents with good intentions simply do not have the time to research best practices to promote optimal brain development.

And for various reasons that may range from low income to lack of knowledge, parents in many cases parents do not have access to available information and resources that can improve their child's upbringing and potential for success.

As a result, some parents will adopt techniques and practices that might seem harmless, but are in fact setting the scene for their child to endure developmental delays and social problems that can persist throughout childhood and adulthood.

This is the pattern that The Urban Child Institute and WLOK are working to circumvent. Through their visits to area preschool, head-start, and early childcare centers, the partners want to ensure that the informational and instructional tools that are proven to be effective in producing ideal outcomes for babies ages zero to three get into the hands of those who need them.

Earlier this month, WLOK radio host Sheila Smith visited Victory Preschool, a new provider that opened its facility in August 2012. It was the first stop on a growing list of scheduled visits.

"Initially, I had some reservations when we were contacted," said Victory's owner and director, Charlotte Burgess.

"Being a private center, we get a lot of calls from people trying to sell their information and services. I had not heard of The Urban Child Institute, but after getting background information from Sheila, I realized that their mission aligned with ours. "

Victory Preschool uses a Christian-based curriculum that incorporates a combination of play and learn for kindergarten preparation. The concept is similar to The Urban Child Institute's "Touch, Talk, Read, Play" initiative, a campaign to educate parents and caregivers on small things that they can do to nurture brain development in young children; things that will have a big impact on learning ability and social adaptability.

Burgess plans to include the literature provided by The Urban Child Institute in her students' "Friday Folders" – a packet of information that she sends home each week for parents to stay actively engaged in their child's development and progress.

"I think the partnership between The Urban Child Institute and WLOK is great, and something that is needed," Burgess said.

"The more information and resources that we can offer our parents, the better off our kids will be."

To build a better educated workforce, a feat that will in turn create stronger communities and improve our economy in Shelby County, no one organization, corporation, or government entity should be expected to bear the brunt of the work alone.

Cross-sector collaboration is vital to maximize impact, particularly in confronting social and economic challenges such as poverty and crime – two persistent obstacles in Memphis that research shows stems from the education level of the city's adult population.

There are several transformative community change initiatives currently underway to improve educational outcomes across Shelby County. If they are to prove successful, synergy among business, government, non-profit and faith-based leaders must exist.

Expanding support for early childhood development is an area that is rich in opportunities to make a lasting impact for future generations, and all parties involved will reap the benefits.

The partnership between The Urban Child Institute and WLOK offers an example of a proactive approach to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

"We are not waiting for them to come to us," said Gilliam. "We just want to reach these kids wherever they are."

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