Community launches POWER bag initiative

Posted on January 2, 2020

Representatives from the education and medical communities came together to announce the launch of the POWER initiative Wednesday at the West Texas Food Bank.

POWER stands for Power of Words and Early Reading. Representatives from the committee that spoke about the project were Executive Director of the Education Partnership of the Permian Basin Adrian Vega, Lorraine Perryman, co-chair of the Education Partnership with Collin Sewell, Dr. Sara Amiri from Odessa Regional Medical Center, Christin Abbott Timmons, chief nursing officer with Medical Center Health System, and Ector County ISD Superintendent Scott Muri.

The purpose of the initiative is to encourage the community to read, speak and interact with children, as frequently as possible, beginning at birth.

Research has shown that there is a major word gap in words spoken and the types of messages conveyed between children born into poverty and children born into working-class or professional families, a news release said.

Data from 2019 from ECISD indicates that 57 percent of kindergarteners who attended prekindergarten were not kindergarten-ready, and that 65 percent of the kindergarteners who did not attend pre-kinderarten were not kindergarten-ready.

The project will launch Jan. 1, 2020, at Medical Center Hospital and Odessa Regional Medical Center with the birth of the first baby of the year. Perryman said about 5,000 babies are year are born in Ector County.

Vega noted that his is Phase I of the effort. When the Education Partnership meets early next year, the focus of the meeting will be to begin to craft and lay out a community wide strategy and plan “to ensure that when children leave the hospital that every single touch point and through line between leaving the hospital and entering in prek, we have a network.”

“We’re going to be binging together all of the pediatricians, clinics, child care centers, day care centers so we can build a network for our kids. If more kids enter ECISD kindergarten ready, the … compounding effect is going to be positive,” Vega said.

Perryman said from the moment of a child’s birth, their families will be made aware of the research and given tools on how they can begin to interact effectively with their children to build their brainpower, language skills and to make them kindergarten ready.

“That will begin on the first day of their life,” Perryman said Wednesday.

The bags will come in Spanish and English.

A bag stuffing party is scheduled for 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 17 at the West Texas Food Bank. All 5,000 bags will be prepared, stored and then distributed as needed.

“It’s so impactful to be able to give what I would consider a gift to our families when they go home. At Medical Center alone, we send home over 200 moms with their newborns every month and so it’s very important for us to instill things into our moms so they know how to care for their infants. So this is just one more layer of caring for them to be able to them to be able to put something so important into their hands,” Timmons said.

It nurtures the relationship between the parents and their children, she added.

“As a pediatrician,” Amiri said, “I notice kids who have been read to intentionally since birth have a broader vocabulary and they achieve their developmental milestones earlier. These children are more likely to be school ready when they start kindergarten and end up being more successful in their academic career.”

“We know that more than 80 percent of a child’s brain is formed during their first three years of life. Any experience that a child has during these first three years, these formative years has a long lasting impact on their development. One of the best ways a parent or a caregiver can show love and affection to a child is through engaging them by reading to them out loud. Reading to a child also helps promote the development of strong parent-child bonds and it promotes positive social emotional and also character development,” Amiri added.

The result of some of this not happening in the community, Muri said means on the first day of kindergarten for 65 percent of the students are not ready and have need for speech language pathologists because they were not communicated with.

“So 65 percent of the students in ECISD today begin their very first day of school not even at the starting line. They have yet to arrive at the starting line. They are still behind. They have yet to get there, so we have an opportunity as a community to make sure that on the first day of school that every child is ECISD is ready for their first day of school they are kindergarten ready,” Muri said.

Starting in August 2020, ECISD will offer full-day pre-k program for all 4 year olds, he added.

Perryman has said ORMC has donated $25,000 and MCH, $50,000.

The bags will include a Centers for Disease Control milestone moments book, CDC age-level baby book, a Scholastic book, baby toy keys, a baby bib, articles, a magnet and website information for additional resources.

Last spring, Perryman said she heard about POWER, or Brain bags as they were called, when Quint Studer, a Pensacola, Fla., businessman, spoke at a small workshop at Medical Center. She said he spoke about the bags very briefly, but her interest was piqued. She talked to him about it afterward.

From there, a POWER subcommittee with 18 to 20 people started meeting. She said 65 percent of children in Ector County are not kindergarten ready.