Editorial: Supporting learning opportunities in untraditional places

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 6/18/2018 4:52 PM
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  • Boys and Girls Club junior staff volunteers help two sisters work on their English language skills at the JetXpress laundry in Elgin.

      Boys and Girls Club junior staff volunteers help two sisters work on their English language skills at the JetXpress laundry in Elgin. Rick West | Staff Photographer

There is no one-size-fits-all way to learn.

Some people learn by listening, some by reading or watching. Others prefer to roll up their sleeves and learn on their own.

The same can be said about learning locations. Learning is not limited to a desk in a classroom.

And, that's the idea behind "Language in the Laundromat," a new community initiative launched this spring that aims to create mini libraries in laundromats across Elgin. The idea is to bring literacy to at-risk children up to 5 years old whose families may not be able to afford or have access to preschool.

It is a creative way to provide the kind of help students need to be better prepared for kindergarten and boost their ability to learn from the start of their education career.

What's also impressive and encouraging is the broad support behind the program -- Elgin Area School District U-46, Elgin Community College, United Way of Elgin and Gail Borden Public Library are among the 65 partnering agencies. That backing and more will be important for organizers to obtain the needed funding to expand to even more locations.

Already, the program's community partners have donated books, money and time, with volunteers coming in weekly to engage children in activities while their parents wash clothes. One Elgin laundry has been outfitted with books in English and Spanish, and signs and posters encourage families to turn wash time into talk time and read to their children.

"It's kind of a platform for other partners to come in and help serve families and meet them where they are," Elgin Partnership for Early Learning's Amber Peters told our Madhu Krishnamurthy. "Research shows families are in laundromats for about two and a half hours a week. It's a perfect opportunity to meet people in their environment ... and share resources."

The goal here is literacy, more specifically, increasing the number of words children are exposed to. Children from high-income families are exposed to 30 million more words than children from lower socio-economic backgrounds, according to one study. The Elgin Partnership hopes to close that gap by taking the initiative to places where low-income families frequent, starting with laundry facilities, with an eye to expanding to local and ethnic grocery stores, playgrounds and pediatrician offices.

Sixty percent of students entering U-46, the state's second largest school district, are not meeting kindergarten readiness bench marks, including key standards often learned in preschool.

Clearly, more needs to done, so program organizers are not waiting for parents of at-risk children to ask for help -- they are creating learning opportunities in untraditional places.

That's a movement we can get behind.

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