October 22, 2020

‘Baby Braves’ Program Off and Running

Baby Braves and parents/guardians at the spring reunion at Franklin City Park (Photo: Baby Braves on Facebook)

(Franklin, GA) — The eldest group of ‘Baby Braves’ are entering Pre-K classes in the Heard County School system for the first time today, with members of the future Heard High Class of 2030 officially enrolling at local elementary schools.

While the first group of Baby Braves is only 19 strong, the entire program has really taken off during its inception with over 250 babies and toddlers now involved ranging from babies still in the womb up to this inaugural class of 4-year-olds.

The uncommon education initiative was launched by the school system in the summer of 2016  as a way to connect with parents, bring awareness to critical developmental milestones, and to help prepare children with readiness skills for school.

The program was developed in association with the Heard County Community Partnership.

The program is one of the most innovative of its kind. The school connects immediately with parents with an initial visit where resources, materials, and information are given to the parent(s).

At that time, a Heard County tote filled with books, puzzles, a Baby Braves shirt, and an Honorary Diploma is given to the child. There are also fun-filled quarterly gatherings known as the “Baby Braves Class Reunions.”

These reunions provide experiences for the children, additional resources and materials for the parents, agency information, and school connections.

Baby Brave brothers (Photo: Baby Braves on Facebook)

The Heard County School system targets this age group due to the importance of development during the early years.

Birth to three years of age is a critical developmental time that can be a predictor of later success.

Babies whose parents frequently talk to them know 300 more words by age two than those of parents who rarely speak, and early vocabulary development is a good indicator of of later school performance.

The positive social Interaction also enhances the speed and accuracy of learning and teaches children how to successfully interact with others. Reading aloud to a child can stimulate brain development and establish reading readiness skills for school.

“The Baby Braves program has taken on a life of its own,” says Sheri Calhoun, director of the Baby Braves program. “Our School System is committed to the education of the children of Heard County. We want to connect and partner early with parents to begin the journey towards graduation, and the Baby Braves program is a way to do just that.”

Calhoun believes the program can be a huge asset to child development.

“The thing I want parents to know is that the early years are very critical in a child’s life,” states Calhoun. “Birth to three years of age is the fastest rate of brain development across the entire life span. The time that a parent spends engaged with their child has a direct impact on the likelihood of later school success.”

The program is the brainchild of Heard County Superintendent Rodney Kay, a longtime educator — most recently he was the principal at HCHS.

“Like all school systems in Georgia, Heard County has wrestled with the idea of improving student achievement,” says Kay. “We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on remediation programs, after-school tutoring, cram-and-slam study sessions and summer school. We have built remediation time into the daily schedules at most of our schools. Yet, we are still not satisfied with our results.”

Kay realizes the fruits of the labor may not come until way down the road, but believes it is very necessary for long-term academic success for Heard County students.

“We are a small, rural school district, and we have a high number of economically disadvantaged children who attend our schools. Disappointing state College and Career Ready Performance Index scores have led many districts to try to find the quick fixes, the low-hanging fruit to increase the score. In my opinion, there is no quick fix,” explains the first year superintendent.

“At the home meeting, we stress to families the importance of reading and having meaningful dialogue from day one with their child to help develop vocabulary. We emphasize to young parents the importance of putting down their phones and speaking/playing/interacting with their children.”

“We explain the importance of getting to know their school administrators and faculty before they ever drop their child off for that first day of school. The foundation has been laid,” adds Kay. “We have met with the parents in their homes and handed off the materials, and now we are preparing for our first big event this week — the babies and their families are coming to the school.”

The large majority of that first class to enter the Pre-K program will attend the largest elementary school in the county — Heard Elementary.

HES principal and former Georgia Teacher of the Year Runner-Up Paul Mixon is eager to see the potential results first hand during the upcoming school year.

“With what the state requires now by pushing academic rigor down to younger and younger grades — it means that even our Pre-K and kindergarten kids are needing a lot more preparation now than in years past,” says Mixon.

“Our elementary schools will be the biggest beneficiary of this in the long term because what will happen is we will get more kids coming into our school that are even more academically ready and have already been academically challenged.”

Mixon thinks the smaller size of the community and closer knit atmosphere is crucial to the program.

“I’m not sure this would work as well in a larger community where the people aren’t as tight-knit like we are here in Heard County,” says Mixon.

“I think the parents in larger communities might be more suspicious of the school system trying to tie in to a kid’s home life at such a young age — but here in Heard County we’ve already seen during the first couple of reunions that many of our parents are really appreciative of this early help and our sharing of early childhood education resources.”

Don’t miss the opportunity to become part of something amazing! The sign up is simple. Just call Heard County BOE (706-675-3320) and indicate that you want to sign up for the Baby Braves program. The program is open to babies and toddlers three years old and younger, and the initial visit is made at the convenience of the parent.

Program leaders will be glad to come to your home, meet at the BOE Office, or even in the park. For additional information or pictures of our Baby Braves, “Like” us on Facebook.

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