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Arkansas Community Foundation invests in local ‘Excel by Eight’ project

Featured image: A preschool teacher works with a student wearing a “talk pedometer,” which records child and adult vocalizations, as part of the school-based LENA Grow program. Teachers receive reports on how much talk and interaction each child experiences in a day of recording.

The Independence County Excel by Eight Committee (E8) has been awarded a grant “…to build brains through ‘early talk’ from Arkansas Community Foundation,” according to a release from the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce (BACC).

The $60,000 grant will afford Batesville, Cedar Ridge, Midland, and Southside pre-school teachers’ Language Environment Analysis (LENA) “cutting-edge” technology, data reports, and professional coaching through LENA Grow, the release said.

“Conversational turns are simple things — just back-and-forth interactions between an adult and a child, but research reveals a tremendous impact of these simple exchanges,” said Jessi Rice, community consultant for E8’s state-wide initiative.

According to research cited on LENA’s website, improved brain development, executive functioning, social-emotional skills, language development, reading skills, and kindergarten readiness are among the benefits of increased interactions, the chamber said.

Through the LENA Grow program, students wear vests (see images) with special LENA talk-pedometers that will collect data on the classroom talk environment. Teachers will regularly review the data reports with coaches, using video examples and other tools to master techniques for increasing interactive talk with their students.

BACC will lead as the program manager for the LENA Grow program, which will begin in schools following Labor Day.

“Our E8 work in Independence County is a focused, long-term economic development strategy,” said Jamie Rayford, Batesville Area Chamber’s chief operating officer. “When we analyze employer feedback about the gap in skills they are experiencing, it almost always comes back to executive functioning skills or self-regulation in the workplace. A sound body of research, agreed upon by neuroscientists, supports the idea that we must focus on these skills in early childhood to close this gap successfully.”

“We are excited about this program and its impact on students’ vocabularies, which is the foundation for literacy,” said Mindy Shaw, a member of Excel by Eight’s local steering committee.

Arkansas Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization with over a half billion dollars in assets, fosters smart giving to improve communities.

The community foundation offers tools to help Arkansans protect, grow and direct their charitable dollars as they learn more about community needs.

Images provided by the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce

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