Why I Know Early Literacy Matters

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By Lindsay Dolce, J.D.

Editor’s Note: Lindsay Dolce is the Chief Advancement Officer for Reading & Math Foundation, which advances the replication and expansion efforts for the proven Minnesota Reading Corps model and the Minnesota Math Corps model in new communities nationwide.

In 2002, when I started a new job as an attorney working on family law matters, I had no idea that nearly 20 years later I would leave the practice of law to pursue a career that allows me to support nearly 40,000 children each year with critical reading and math interventions.

Lindsay Dolce, J.D.

The path was not a straight line, in fact it was quite curvy but the common thread all along was that I wanted to be a voice for children who are not able to advocate for themselves.  Over the last 20 years advocating for “littles” I have learned a few important facts. First, I have NEVER met a child who is not “ready to learn.” Children are born with an amazing sense of curiosity and adventure.  They bring that with them when they show up at school for the first time, and what I know is that AmeriCorps members who choose to serve in school settings are able to turn that curiosity and sense of adventure into something exceptional … growth.  The AmeriCorps members who choose to serve as a Reading Corps or Math Corps tutor often tell me that they weren’t quite sure what they were signing up for but it exceeded their expectations. Having a chance to support children in their learning journey and provide hope about their ability to achieve is the greatest gift a person can give a child.  

I am honored to help lead an organization that invests in creating brighter futures for children by taking the science behind reading and math comprehension and using it to fuel the tools our tutors use every day in classrooms around the country with kids.  For nearly 20 years I have observed a variety of nonprofits running different programs nationally. What truly sets Reading Corps and Math Corps apart is the single-minded focus on making sure what we do works and actually helps move the needle for kids age three to grade three in reading and fourth through eighth grade in math.

When I made the transition from being a family law attorney to working in the nonprofit world I heard the phrase “evidence-based interventions” a lot.  To be honest, I didn’t have the foggiest idea why that was so important until I started to look at the outcomes of different programs. I don’t have a Ph.D., but I can see the difference between children scoring in the proficient versus not proficient categories.  It befuddled me that so many kids were finishing kindergarten and third grade “not ready” to advance to the next grade. Especially when we know that if a child fails to learn how to read by third grade, that child is more likely to dropout of high school and face enormous challenges in life.  ALL of this starts in the first years of a child’s life. Without a solid foundation, children are not able to make the critical transition from learning to read to reading to learn.

Advances in child development and educational psychology have converged on three compelling conclusions. Here is what science tells us:

1.   Early experiences are built into our bodies. Significant adversity can produce physiological disruptions or biological “memories” that undermine the development of the body’s stress response systems and affect the developing brain, cardiovascular system, immune system and metabolic regulatory controls. These physiological disruptions can persist far into adulthood.

2.  Nevertheless, the power of high-quality relationships and learning experiences can demonstrably improve children’s outcomes. 

3. In short – what happens during, and after, a child’s early experiences matters A LOT.

Here is what common sense tells us:

1.       Caring adults can provide young children with positive relationships, rich learning opportunities and safe environments.

2.    When those caring adults sign up for an AmeriCorps experience in Reading Corps and Math Corps, they are committed to helping children acquire two of the most fundamental learning — and life — skills that people need for success.

3.  The combination of caring adults who help children have high-quality learning experiences should improve student outcomes.

It does! The evidence behind Reading and Math Corps proves it.  Investments in evidence-based programs that demonstrate growth and strong outcomes for children are the closest thing to a golden ticket we can give our children.