Words might be one of the most powerful tools we as humans have. As a partnership whose role is to bring our Kenosha County community together to improve student outcomes, we know words have the power to inspire people together towards action, or to divide and “other” groups that are different from us. When phrases are embedded in our everyday language, it can be difficult to take a step back and think about the broader meaning behind the words. But, we believe that using continuous improvement and being reflective in our work is the only way for us to move forward.
That’s why we encourage you to consider flipping a script that you may not even know that you have, and that we’ve also used. In education, it has become widely understood that there is an “achievement gap” that exists. This is most often used to describe the difference in academic outcomes between student groups--typically, between white students and students of color. Now, it is helpful to have a common language so that when people come together to create solutions, everyone is on the same page sooner and can help move the conversation further. And, we want to make certain that we’re creating positive narratives that will encourage all our Kenosha County students to achieve their full potential.
In recent years, some have suggested replacing “Achievement Gap” with “Opportunity Gap.” The word “Achievement” very subtly attributes lower rates of academic success to the students themselves, or to the schools, rather than to the unequal and inequitable distribution of educational opportunities to different student groups and neighborhoods. This shift may also change our mindsets as we work together to identify solutions that lead to more equitable outcomes. Opportunities for students to choose and own books in their own home, attend high-quality early childhood education, participate in summer camps, and build relationships with adults with varying careers and post-secondary credentials, all have a compounding effect on a student’s achievement over their lifetime.
The issue, therefore, is an opportunity gap, not an achievement gap. Our hope is that this re-frame will inspire us to continue working together towards systems change--leading to systems where all of our students have access to equitable opportunities to support and promote their learning and success.
How You Can Help:
The past couple decades have seen an increase in an interest in data and its use—indeed, Google searches for “Analytics” are 6.5 times what they were in 2004, and the term “Big Data” only started appearing en masse in searches around 2010. While data analysis can be very powerful, to many, data is still unapproachable and tends to over-generalize its findings. This is why context around data is as important as the data analysis it informs, and it is usually why an analysis can miss the mark.
This is the case especially in education. Regardless of a child’s age, differences in development, personal life, and learning styles abound, making general statements a very precarious undertaking. If I told you that students from lower income backgrounds tend to perform worse academically, one might think that individuals with less money simply do worse in school. In reality, however, this speaks nothing about the individual, rather it speaks to factors associated with lower incomes that might cause a student to do worse in school—like poor nutrition, inability to attend school on a regular basis due to varying reasons, or a host of other circumstantial influences.
In order to address this, Building Our Future has created data teams comprised of professionals that work specifically with and for each of our educational networks. These four work teams focus on developing systems around data use to advance Building Our Future’s vision within the areas of kindergarten readiness (the Smart Beginnings Network), Early Grade Reading, Community Engagement, and, the newest network area, High School Completion, Postsecondary Success, and Career Readiness. Meeting for an hour each month, they discuss the appropriate use of data to support what professionals in the field are doing and create analytics to guide their strategy.
Data is the way of the future—there’s no doubting that. It’s power, though, cannot be understated, nor can it be used lightly. In working together, Kenosha County can affect the systems and language around its data to make the outcomes of our children better and more equitable for years to come.
Ways to Get Involved:
My personal mission statement is “Create safe places for people to live into their genius.” Building Our Future’s work speaks to that. In my life, I am most grateful for those who provide a safe place for me to be all I can be.
I believe everyone has a unique genius and, with the right support and hard work, they can live into it, making the positive impact our world needs.
My soul aches when I think of the child, capable of making the next major medical breakthrough but, because of circumstances out of their control, they will never get the chance. I am driven by joy when I think of my father, a high school dropout, who had a community that saw something in him he could not, supporting him in building a successful company that has made a positive difference for many.
Coming to Kenosha has been a blessing for me, my family, and our business. I am grateful to those who came before and had a grand vision for our future and I do not take their hard work and civic responsibility for granted.
In previous generations, they saw a need for a bank, a hospital, a social security office, a business park, and on and on, so they built them. They had full lives but made the time to take on a bigger, community-focused vision that included more than their personal success.
Building Our Future is a vision for the next generation. Too many of our children are falling through the cracks, and it affects every one of us. It affects the future and will take an entire community committing to change. Schools can’t do it alone.
For me, Building Our Future is a way to pay forward the blessings I have been given by this community. It is a way for Kenosha County to be all it can be.
A thriving future will require the genius of every child, and we must create an infrastructure that provides for that.
The vision “EVERYONE ACHIEVING PERSONAL POTENTIAL CRADLE TO CAREER” is a real possibility. For me, it’s a vision worth spending the rest of my life on.
In the words of Margaret Meade, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
The buzz in recent years on the importance of early childhood has been roaring. Young children’s brains are producing 1 million new neural connections per second in the first few years of life, and we now understand the bigger picture of why we need to set families up for success from very early-on. Research has shown that investing in quality care and programming at this young age, specifically for our most disadvantaged children, leads to a 13% return on investment annually. Kenosha County residents of all generations, and our economy, would benefit widely from this return. This is the work of our Smart Beginnings Network.
Dr. Diane Gerlach, pediatrician at Aurora Health Care and champion of this work, demonstrates this. “When children are struggling early on, they tend to have behavior problems. This adds stress to the parent who may also be struggling with parenting, and it bleeds over to their [employment] with poor productivity and attendance. Identifying problem areas early allows for early treatment, which decreases their struggles and behavior problems, which decreases parent stress. This creates better current and future employees.” Smart Beginnings brings together community partners to directly address the importance of early childhood through alignment of programs and systems.
This group has launched its collaborative action approach by aligning with childcare centers and equipping them with the Ages & Stages Questionnaire (ASQ-3), a developmental screening tool. Childcare centers get trained to educate parents and caregivers about developmental milestones and provide them with activities to help their child thrive. Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher, so when parents understand the importance of reading, talking, and playing with their child, it can result in significant gains in developmental outcomes. Regular screenings can also ensure that families receive needed interventions early. When parents are supported, they can be more present and productive employees, residents, and leaders in our community. Businesses and our overall economy are then poised to profit.
We are already seeing small wins with this alignment. The number of reported ASQ-3s in Kenosha County has doubled over this time last year, resulting in more children receiving necessary interventions earlier. Suzi Wolf, Early Intervention Program Manager at KAC, shares, “Providing services before a child is school age is more effective and less costly because the developing brain is the most capable of change.” Is this an investment we can afford not to make?
How You Can Help
The success of this work depends on stakeholders of all shapes and sizes. Consider:
We need You: Your Knowledge. Your experiences. Your skills. YOU!