Dr. Owen Cardwell first heard about The Basics when a mutual friend introduced him to Dr. Ron Ferguson, the Harvard University professor who developed the educational program that helps prepare children, ages 0 to 5, for kindergarten.
“More and more, we’re beginning to look at adaptive pathways for lifelong learning,” Cardwell, co-chair of the University of Lynchburg’s Center for Education and Leadership and Rosel Schewel Distinguished Chair in Education, said.
“We can’t simply focus on middle schoolers and high schoolers. We have to begin to prepare all the way from birth, and we have to begin to see lifelong learning as just that.
“It’s not a series of destinations, marked by graduations, but a commitment to learning for the whole span of life. This is one way to begin to implant that idea early in the education of the child.”
That was two and a half years ago. Last fall, Cardwell was talking with the city of Lynchburg’s school superintendent, Dr. Crystal Edwards, when The Basics came to mind. The two educators were at a meeting about the University’s Lynchburg Tomorrow initiative when Edwards brought up a problem she was seeing in the public schools.
“She made reference to a number of students not being ready to attend school when they were eligible for kindergarten,” Cardwell said. “They just didn’t have the basic skills. I remembered The Basics, and they had done some considerable work in the interim. I reached out to Ron.”
Recently, the University signed a memorandum of understanding with Centra, the regional health care system, to bring The Basics to Lynchburg-area families. The current goal is for Centra to sign up 500 families at its Virginia Baptist Hospital at the one-time cost of $10 per family.
The University also is seeking other community partners to recruit an additional 500 families.
“We are so excited about this partnership and about our ability to offer this evidenced-based program to our families,” said Kim Price, Centra’s vice president of patient experience/women and children service line.
“The Basics Insights messaging program helps parents and caregivers incorporate early childhood learning into everyday routines. Simple, science-based tips and activities that support children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development from birth through age five.
“Parents can choose to receive messages via text, WhatsApp, or The Basics app with science-based messages linked to one of The Basics five principles: Maximize Love, Manage Stress; Talk, Sing, and Point; Count, Group, and Compare; Explore through Movement and Play; and Read and Discuss Stories.
“We will be offering this program to 500 families and hope to grow this program and this partnership to include all families experiencing parenthood in our community.”
In addition to texts and apps, families can find resources on The Basics website and through in-person meetings. Also, thanks to a $10,000 gift from Patrick Henry Family Services, a local nonprofit, families will benefit from The Basics for free.
“The program is fairly inexpensive on an individual basis, but very often people who need it most can afford it least,” Cardwell said. “The idea is to try to sign them up at birth, which allows them to have access to the program for five years. Even though it’s only $10, some families can’t afford that.”
As for the University’s role, the MOU describes it as the “backbone organization,” working with community partners. In addition to managing the funds, Cardwell said, the University is “a repository” for the program.
“We’re kind of responsible for making sure that the partners encourage the families to do quarterly surveys. They want to track the development of how these families are faring.”