I talk with Anne Cooper, who told me the story behind Revelstoke’s extraordinary success with early childhood programming, which has transformed elementary, middle and high-school literacy and drop-out rates for the better. We talked about the importance of unrealistic goals, and how to successfully develop partnerships across diverse organizations. Anne is the retired superintendent of School District No. 19 in Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada.
When Anne arrived in 1999 in Revelstoke, BC, the community was concerned about the quality of secondary school education: 64% of children were graduating from high-school, and many children were dropping-out in grade 10 (primarily because of reading and behavioural issues). Anne, along with others in the education community, started a literacy committee to try to solve the problem. And in 2002, the community started piloting the Early Development Instrument (EDI) and began work on the “Success by 6” program. It was at this point that two parallel tracks met: the literacy committee, struggling to understand how to send more capable children into high school (starting in Kindergarten), and Success By 6 and the EDI, supporting families and children from birth through to kindergarten.
Today, the community of Revelstoke is guided by a Children’s Charter and an Early Childhood Dev. Strategic Plan with an inspiring guiding vision, where “Revelstoke envisions a caring community that acknowledges, values and supports the shared responsibility of investing in young children so that they may live, learn, play and dream in safe and healthy surroundings.”
Anne has been an instrumental force in the establishment of Revelstoke as the most successful school district in the Province of BC… and she continues to strive to make Revelstoke a truly family friendly city. As Anne puts it “if you are looking out for your children, living in Revelstoke will make a difference for your children, there’s no doubt.”
Some big ideas exchanged:
- The literacy committee was guided by the notion of “going upstream”: if grade 8 kids can’t read at high school levels, let’s not have the high school shoulder all the blame. What led to these children arriving in grade 8 with poor literacy skills? (How many problems do we try to solve at the wrong end? Looking at the history of a process and how we arrived at “today”, is just as important as looking at the present barriers and opportunities.)
- How do we send more capable and successful children into high school? Rather than play the blame game, Anne and her colleagues asked “What, as a system, can we do differently?” (Move beyond the blame game, accept responsibility for a piece of the problem, and look at the entire system, together. You can think of a visual here: instead of fingers pointing angrily at one another, think of fingers pointing outward from the group, with curiosity, at the bigger system that your problem is a part of.)
- Changing the frame: instead of thinking of supporting “early years programming”, think of supporting a “family friendly environment”. (This reminded me of Murray Bowen’s work on the family as a system, and John Bradshaw’s work on how dysfunctional family systems “function”. When you think about it, it makes sense! School and community programming represent only a small percentage of the spaces where children are cared for. The majority of a child’s day is spent at home–especially pre-Kindergarten children.)
- The sensitive periods of early brain development for vision and hearing development, for habitual ways of responding, for language, for emotion, for peer social skills, and more–most of these are in place prior to five years of age. (For theses core developmental milestones, you really need to have more taxpayer-supported programming for the early years. In the meantime, if you have kids, seriously consider investing in early childhood education like Montessori or Reggio, as opposed to college. AND it needs to be said: this doesn’t just benefit parents, the broader societal effects of focusing on early years programming has been thoroughly studied by economist James Heckman–and he even won a Nobel Prize for his work!)
- And more!
References, allusions, and mentions implied:
- School District No. 19 (Revelstoke)
- School District No. 81 (Fort Nelson)
- Revelstoke Early Childhood Dev. Strategic Plan
- Revelstoke’s Neighbourhood Learning Centre – So Much More than a Building
- The Revelstoke Children’s Charter
- British Columbia School Superintendents Association
- Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP)
- Early Development Instrument
- Success By 6
- Strong Start BC
- Montessori Education
- Since so many partners were mentioned during the interview, check out this slide deck for an overview of Revelstoke’s initiatives and a list of partners: cities-fit-for-children-2013.
Credit where credit is due:
- Intro music: Kosmiche Slop by Anenon, licensed under CC BY 2.0.
- Outro music: Whispering Through by Asura, licensed under CC BY 2.0.