Tiny Grant Spotlight: Heard County School System’s Baby Braves Program

Tiny Grant Spotlight: Heard County School System’s Baby Braves Program

During Fiscal Year 2017, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) sought to spur small-scale innovation through the Tiny Grant Program. Launched in October 2017, the Tiny Grant program invested funding in classroom, school, and district pilot programs that have the potential to create a lasting impact on student achievement.

During the second round of Tiny Grant applications in February 2017, Heard County School System (HCSS) received a $10,000 Tiny Grant to grow its Baby Braves initiative. With the help of the grant, HCSS expanded the Baby Braves program, which aims to prepare children birth to age three for prekindergarten by developing fundamental literacy skills and increasing family participation in their education. The following Education Update will highlight the Baby Braves program, its goals and outcomes, and plans for the program moving forward.

The Need for the Program: Baby Braves is Born

During a district meeting with community stakeholders in 2016, HCSS discussed the state of the district, including graduation rates. Although its 92 percent graduation rate was higher than the then-state average of 79.2 percent, HCSS wanted to focus on the 8 percent of non-graduating students. In response, the county analyzed grade-level data and developed a series of data-driven programs aimed at helping those students not meeting graduation requirements. During the process, the district determined one of the root causes for students not graduating to be that many entered pre-K and kindergarten without the fundamental literacy and numeracy skills necessary for success at this level. For these children to acquire the foundational literacy skills that put them on track to graduation, the district aimed to develop a program that reached children and their families before they entered pre-K. Based on this plan, HCSS introduced the Baby Braves program, which invites birth to age three children and their families to participate in a series of literacy-focused events. Specifically, the Tiny Grant-funded program’s goals were to:

  • Increase student enrollment in pre-K programs across Heard County;
  • Increase readiness skills in pre-K students; and
  • Increase family engagement in their children’s education and awareness about the importance of working with their children to strengthen literacy skills.

Addressing the Problem at Its Root

Baby Braves kicked off in Mach 2017 by offering enrollment to any family with a birth to age three child. Once a family enrolls, the outreach coordinator conducts a home visit, during which families learn strategies to support their children’s early literacy development. During the visits, families also receive a Welcome Baby Bag, which includes an assortment of books, flash cards, alphabet puzzles, and information about Heard County community resources. As part of their participation, families also have an opportunity to meet their children’s future teachers, attend community events, and, if needed, receive support from community professionals, such as a speech pathologist.

The program also hosts quarterly Class Reunions. During the reunions, the district provides a space for all Baby Braves participants to interact, gain additional resources and practice literacy strategies. Some class reunions include stations where the children are placed in same-age activity groups, and the parents learn age-appropriate activities to do at home with their children. During other reunions, families can visit a local pre-K classroom and meet informally with school staff. These class reunions allow families to build trusting relationships with local pre-Ks and schools, the school district and other community members.

Through these activities, students are acquiring the skills necessary to be successful in pre-K and beyond. Furthermore, families become more engaged in their children’s education and now have a strong grasp on language and literacy skills to use with them at home.

Tiny Grant, Big Impact

With 302 active families, the Baby Braves program has positively impacted the community by increasing enrollment in pre-K, improving literacy skills in pre-K students, and increasing family engagement in their children’s education. Specifically:

  • Overall, participating parents noted that although they were initially reluctant to send their children to pre-K, attending the class reunions and meeting school faculty made them feel more comfortable with the schools and the district. As such, pre-K programs throughout the county have experienced an increase in enrollment since the start of the program. Since the program was implemented, pre-K enrollment in Heard County increased 15.7 percentage points from baseline, from 81.8 percent in September 2015 to 97.5 percent in September 2018.
  • Based on the Baby Braves Teacher Survey from May 2019, 100 percent of pre-K teachers agreed or somewhat agreed that since the start of the program, students begin the year with higher readiness skills than before the program began.
     
  • Based on a Baby Braves Class Reunion Survey from April 2019, 100 percent of parents reported that the following stations were helpful or very helpful for them and their child:
    • The Reading Readiness station;
    • The Math Readiness; and
    • The Speech rotation.
       
  • HCSS administered the Star Early Literacy Assessment (Star Assessment), from which students receive a score from 300-900, which indicates their reading level in one of the following four categories: Early Emergent Reader (300-487), Late Emergent Reader (488-674), Transitional Reader (675-774), and Probable Reader (775-900). During the 2017-2018 school year, 21 pre-kindergarten Baby Braves students took the assessment at the beginning and end of the school year. From the beginning of the year to the end of the year, the percentage of Transitional Readers and Probable Readers – the two highest categories on the assessment – increased from zero to 38 percent and zero to 14 percent, respectively.

Star Early Literacy Assessment Heard County.jpg

  • In School Year 2017-2018, the average pre-K Baby Brave student score on the Star Early Literacy Assessment increased 177 points, from 507 at the beginning of the year to 684 at the end of the year.

The Future of Baby Braves

Heard County implemented Baby Braves with the intention of ensuring that students are prepared for kindergarten by developing language and literacy skills in children birth to age three, increasing enrollment in pre-K programs, and increasing family awareness of practicing early literacy strategies with their children. The county continues to hold class reunions with participating families and provide support where needed. Given the success of the pilot, the county has committed to fully funding the program beyond the grant. The county will monitor participating students as they go through elementary, middle, and high school to assess the long-term impacts of the Baby Braves program. Heard County ultimately hopes to reach all children in Heard County before they enter pre-K with the hopes of ensuring that students are reading on grade-level by third grade and, ultimately, graduating with a high school diploma.