Friday, February 05, 2010

Podunk Below the Masthead (Thursday, February 4, 2010)

Child poverty and educational issues are the focus of a new study, some more background on the latest twist at Watson Island and Northwest Mayors recently took their concerns on the economy to Victoria, some of the items of note for the Thursday news files.

Daily News, front page, headline story

STUDY ON CHILD LEARNING LINKS ABILITIES TO LOCAL PROSPERITY-- A new study published by the Human Early Learning Partnership, has examined the co relation between students who have lived in areas of high poverty in their formative years, and how that can factor in to reduced scores on standard tests by Grade 7 regardless of where they live.

The study which carries the title "Early experiences matter: Lasting effect of concentrated disadvantage on children's language and cognitive outcomes" seems timed to arrive at the same time as the controversial Fraser Institute rankings of schools. Those controversial rankings raise the ire of educators and some parents on an annual basis, with the study from Early Learning Partnership perhaps we're seeing a bit of a push back towards the focus of the Fraser Institute's findings.

The Daily News catches up with all the chatter on line and in coffee shops this week, as it provides some background on the recent court filing by Sun Wave Forest Products as they challenge some of the recent moves by the City of Prince Rupert in the ongoing process of the selling of the Watson Island industrial site. As we outlined on the blog on Wednesday, Sun Wave filed the second of two civil claims on February first, adding yet another level of mystery in the seemingly never ending process of removing Watson Island from the city's depleted bankroll.

Plans are in place to bring back the COPs program for the city, with a spike in break and enters and vandalism of late in the downtown core area, there has been much demand for something to be done. So with that in mind, an introductory meeting to rebuild the program is planned for Tuesday, February 9 at 7:30, taking place in the Community Policing office at City Hall.

The Sports section features a look at recent Senior boys basketball with a review of the final Boys Basketball showcase hosted by PRSS on Wednesday night. The weekly look at the UFC is also featured in Thursday's edition of the paper.

No new local items were posted to the Northern View website for Thursday.

CFTK TV 7 News
Plans Proceed for Wood Pellet Plant in Terrace -- Some positive news for Terrace's hard hit forest sector as General Biofuels Canada has moved forward with its plans to develop a wood pellet plant for that northwest city. The company has already secured letters of intent from potential customers in Asia and Europe and hopes to have the plant operational by next year (see article here)

Queen Charlotte Islands Observer
Port's mayor, three others ask for help on the economy -- A delegation of Northwest Mayors presented their concerns on the economic state of the northwest when they met with the government's northern MLAs and to the NDP rural caucus, the Observer outlined some of the concerns that the brought forward during their visit (see article here)

CBC News, Northern British Columbia, Daybreak North
The return of local content on the CBC website continues to experience delays as technical woes appear to be continuing. The CBC has once again revised their start up date for the new service, advising that the site will launch "shortly"

Daily News, front page headline story
Study on child learning links abilities to local prosperity
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Thursday, February 4, 2010

Your child’s learning outcomes may have a lot to do with how much money not only you make, but also what your neighbours earn.

A new study published by the Human Early Learning Partnership is connecting neighbourhood wealth and learning outcomes.

And while the finding might not give a final stamp of approval to preconceived notions that children are simply products of their environment, it does at least lend credence to the notion and that an earlier recognition and commitment to change could mitigate the way a neighbourhood harms educational outcomes.
The study titled “Early experiences matter: Lasting effect of concentrated disadvantage on children’s language and cognitive outcomes,” published last week in the journal Health & Place, finds children who live in neighbourhoods with higher rates of poverty show reduced scores on standardized tests seven years later – regardless of the child’s place of residence in Grade 7.

The study is the first of its kind to compare the relative effects of neighbourhood poverty at early childhood and early adolescence.

“Our findings suggest that it’s not necessarily where children live later in life that matters for understanding literacy in early adolescence – it’s where they lived years earlier,” says lead researcher Jennifer Lloyd, HELP researcher. “Children’s reading comprehension may be set on a negative course early in life if children and their families are living in resource-deprived places.”

Poverty does not mean immobility. In fact, the report claims that higher rates of residential mobility are associated with poverty, unemployment, family disruption and single parenting. but that those first few experiences in a neighbourhood before turning five tend to stick with a child, regardless of where they live after.
The implications could be significant for Prince Rupert and other economically struggling northern communities.
According to statistics released by School District 52 Superintendent Lynn Hauptman in December, Prince Rupert’s kindergarten students appear to be falling behind when it comes to their readiness for school.
Since the 2006-2007 school year, both basic skills and phonological skills have declined significantly in the first half of the year, leaving educators wondering why.

Theories have abounded, but there is no concrete explanation as to why only 30 per cent of five-year olds last year met education standards for basic skills compared to 66 per cent two years before.

One theory is the cost of economic disadvantage. People who live in poverty have a harder time providing the kinds of educational opportunities that are provided to children of wealthier backgrounds.

Prince Rupert has the highest level of vulnerable children in the province (based on physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development, and communication skills and general knowledge), and the rate has been increasing over the past three years. If there is recognition of the way a community’s economic strength affects a child’s ability to read, then perhaps there is a way to mitigate the disparity between educational outcomes of wealthy and poor kids.

The report suggests the sooner that recognition comes from parents, neighbours and policy makers, the better a child’s educational chances.

“The neighbourhood-level findings are still predicting worse scores seven years later and that’s over and above what we know about the individual children,” said the study’s author, Jennifer Lloyd.

The study could not have come at a better time for locals who have opposed the results. The Fraser Institute leaked its annual report to Black Press, publishers of the Northern View, yesterday, but the results probably won’t shock the community.

In the report, Annunciation School led the way in Prince Rupert with a ranking of 133 out of 876, a significant improvement from it’s five-year ranking of 316th. Westview was next, ranked 485th, followed by Pineridge at 552nd, and Conrad at 716th.

Two Prince Rupert schools, Lax Kxeen and Roosevelt, finished in the bottom 50 with rankings of 846th and 875th respectively - placing Roosevelt second to last in the province.

In Prince Rupert, the South/Ferry neighbourhood that includes much of the local stock of BC Housing residences, is considered one of the most vulnerable blocks in the province. Students attend Pineridge Elementary, Ecole Westview and Roosevelt Elementary, but it is Roosevelt that has had to fight the reputation of being one of the B.C.’s worst performing elementary schools based on Foundation Skills Assessment results. Parents and teachers of Roosevelt have long argued that the school itself is not necessarily underperforming, but that the amount of vulnerable children who attend that school is much higher than the provincial average and this skews the FSA results.

In response, and in conjunction with Success by Six, it is Roosevelt that provides a unique program that acknowledges the challenges South/Ferry faces.

The PACES Hub at Roosevelt encourages parents to drop in for free and improve their reading competency, while at the same time feeling supported as they receive information on how to provide positive behaviour models for home. According to program director Emily Mlieszcko, there are about 200 parents who make use of the program each month.

Mlieszcko said they are starting to see direct benefits from the program in the surrounding community.
“It’s really starting to turn around. The parents are way more engaged in what the children are doing at a young age, and also the parents’ competencies are increasing, too, because they are asking for more support on things they don’t know,” explained Mlieszcko.

Among the subjects they are asking to be educated on is financial literacy. Parents want to know how they can use every dollar to the best of their ability.

“When they can do that, their children are happier because they are able to support their children for a longer time throughout their paycheck periods,” Mlieszcko added.

Jennifer White, one of the Hub’s 200, knows what has to be overcome if she is to give her daughter every opportunity for a full education in Prince Rupert. Before joining the program, she says she was unable to read to her children and felt her illiteracy was holding her children back from receiving a full education. It was also hurting how she related to them.

“The separation between myself and my children in education had definitely become an extra barrier,” said White.

White, 24, lives in the Roosevelt Elementary School catchments area, which is one of the city’s toughest, least economically vibrant neighbourhoods. She knows that she will have to do more with less if those opportunities are going to open up.

With her daughter entering kindergarten, and not speaking very much, White felt that the Hub could improve her child’s communication skills. But it turned out that the Hub was working for her, as well.

White has become more involved in her daughter’s education, and has taken a more active role in her daughter’s life, which she attributes to her time spent in the program. With that increase, explained White, her daughter had changed for the better.

“It is wonderful working and watching her grow. It makes me absolutely happy,’ said White. “She wasn’t really talking and used to only spit out one word sentences, and couldn’t socialize. Now, she loves to socialize.”
But it isn’t just parents that Lloyd’s study hopes to encourage toward an increased positive involvement. She said because it is the neighbourhood factors – external factors – that are shown to influence how a child learns, it was important that the community becomes a positive place for education.

“Kids are influenced, not only by their own individual traits and characteristics, but obviously also by the parents, by community members, educators, by community resources and a whole milieu of influences that will impact a child. Having a a large network around you that are all working together to help you thrive is crucial for a child to do well in life. It does not just come down to parents,’ said Lloyd.

And where a community has a higher level of involvement in each other’s lives, there is a support network for children to fall back on both socially and academically. For instance, where there are higher levels of aboriginal concentration, aboriginal children learn at a faster pace. And the thinking is, said Lloyd, it takes a village to raise a child. That seems to be more based on the involvement of friends and family in each other’s lives and less than it being an ethnic result.

“The predominate school of thought there, and it is not something that is specific to Aboriginal kids – you could do that with Chinese kids, German kids or whoever – the thought is that when you are around people who share your world views and your cultural values – and can look out for one another to build a healthy community – then that can have beneficial effect for learning development,” said Lloyd.

The question now is whether or not PACES will continue on in its current neighbourhood. It is one of Success by Six’s programs, but Roosevelt faces closure along with Westview and Port Edward Elementary. Roosevelt has serious infrastructural upgrades that would be very costly for the school district to fix. For now, the future of the PACES program is cloudy.

Diane Hopkins runs the day–to-day operations of the program and hopes it continues. Sitting down as children play noisily around her, Hopkins said she believes that the program is important for the South/Ferry area.

“In a sense, this program teaches parents that it is not the money that helps education, it is the people,” said Hopkins.

Down the hall from Hopkins is Charlie Carlick’s office. Carlick is Roosevelt’s Childcare worker and has been involved with children’s early education in Metlaklatla and Prince Rupert for some time. The success he’s seen when neighbourhoods are stable and residents are encouraged to be involved in a child’s education astounds him. That’s why he is fighting to save Roosevelt from closure. He does not want PACES removed from the area.

“It’s important because education is a big part of our economics. If we are going to develop, we need to educate our people. The more education we have in Prince Rupert, the better off our city will be.”

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