Alabama ranks in the bottom five in the country of indices relating to how children fare in our state. Children living in poverty are particularly vulnerable. Poor children typically begin kindergarten well behind their middle class counterparts and are the most likely to drop out (Department of Education, State of Alabama data on Dibels test, 2006).
Their failures are also fueled by a larger likelihood of living with adults who suffer from mental health problems (Murphy, Oliver, Monson and Sobel, Archive of General Psychiatry, 1991), particularly depression and anxiety.
And unfortunately, there is a correlation between depression among women and the incidence of physical, emotional and sexual abuse (reported in a number of studies including Hegerty, Gunn, Chondros and Small, 2004 Journal of General Practitioner & BMJ, 2004). Also disturbing is data that strongly suggests that abuse in early years is significantly implicated in the onset of depression when they reach adulthood (Wise, Zierler, Kreiger, and Harlow, Lancet, 2001).
These problems are circular – children starting off in poverty remain in poverty, and mimic the behaviors of their families, which keeps them in poverty which then creates a higher likelihood of abuse when they grow up. Finding strategies to offset these problems is critical if we are to substantively change the outcomes for children in Alabama. As researchers look at what happens in homes of poverty versus those of the middle class, there are some interesting results.
The amount of talking (and communication) between parent and child varies significantly based on socio-economic status (SES). Higher SES parents spoke a significantly greater amount of words per hour to their preschoolers than seen among lower SES parents. And the nature of those communications are more detrimental to developing precisely the abilities – i.e. higher self-esteem, self-confidence – that would help prevent the negative consequences of the environments in which they were raised.
Given the strong correlation between levels of education present between higher or lesser social-economic status (documented for years), the typical poor parent has low education, and grew up without strong educational modeling. We assume that of course everyone knows how to talk and communicate with their child, that they know how to read to their child, that they have the self-confidence and high self-esteem to effectively parent. The data suggests exactly the opposite.
Without offering strong supports to these parents, to help them alter how they parent, their children will follow the predictable path that they inherited from their parents. The mental health issues that infect the landscape of their lives adds to the instability that characterizes poor families.
The First Teachers @ Home curriculum is carefully structured to ensure that the underpinnings of this research is reflected in the lessons. Several exhaustive preschool skills compiled by several state standards commissions were utilized so that virtually every subset of skills are included in the curriculum. The weekly classes cover the necessary academic preparation needed for kindergarten, as well as behavioral and cultural knowledge that contribute to positive performance of children in school irrespective of the specific environments in which they have been raised.
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