In the two years since Central Falls dominated much of the state’s news media with bad news about corruption, bankruptcy and failing schools, there has been some changes for the better. Recently, Rhode Island Kids Count’s Stephanie Geller, a policy analyst, gave a “In Your Backyard” data presentation at Central Falls High School to community residents, sharing with them the information from the organization’s 2012 Factbook that looked at the well-being of children.
Providence Business News asked Geller to provide details about the current well-being of children in Central Falls.
PBN: Central Falls dramatically improved its high school graduation rate, from 46 percent in 2007 to 70 percent in 2011. What were the factors that you believe contributed to this dramatic turnaround?
GELLER: Central Falls has made remarkable progress in improving its high school graduation rate over the past four years. The district has developed a strong data system to identify students that are at-risk of not graduating. Once students are identified, individual graduation plans are put in place to address students’ specific academic and social needs.
In addition, the district now offers multiple opportunities for students to receive or recover credit toward graduation. Students can earn credit at a night school, Saturday school, through a new program (Guide 2 Success) specifically designed to help older, under-credited students make up credits so they can graduate, and through a robust Expanded Learning Opportunity (ELO) program that offers students the opportunity to earn credit beyond the traditional classroom through internships, research projects, and other hands-on learning opportunities in the community.
PBN: On the health front, you found that there were still major improvements needed in healthcare, particularly in the high rate of teen births and poor access to prenatal care? What do you think needs to be done to address this situation?
GELLER: You are right. We are still seeing very high rates of teen births and delayed prenatal care in Central Falls, and these two issues are quite interconnected, because teen girls are the most likely to delay prenatal care of any group.
The state and local communities, like Central Falls, should focus on improving health care services and comprehensive sex education for teens to prevent teen pregnancy, expanding education and economic opportunities for teens so that more young girls have hope for the future and a reason to delay pregnancy and childbirth.
The state and local communities need to continue to invest in evidence-based home visiting programs that support teen parents and their children so we can improve outcomes for young parents and their children.
PBN: Why is it important for R.I. Kids Count to go to the individual communities and present the information from the 2012 Factbook?
GELLER: Each year, Rhode Island Kids Count hosts a series of Data in Your Backyard presentations in each of the core cities and other communities that request presentations to review community-level findings from our Factbook.
We conduct these presentations to make the Factbook data more accessible to community leaders and policy makers and to inform city level policy and community action on key issues.
Local political leaders, educators, business leaders, service providers, and other interested members of the community attend the presentations and then participate in discussions about how to improve outcomes for children in their communities.
Central Falls is an example of a community that faces tremendous challenges due to the pervasiveness of poverty and all of the challenges that go along with it. However, it is also an example of a community that has shown that focusing like a laser beam on key economic, health and educational challenges and banding together as a community to address these challenges can make a difference.
Central Falls has increased its graduation rate and we hope that the community will also soon see the needle moving on other key child well-being indicators.
PBN: Have you ever been invited to present the information before the business community, such as the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce or the Rhode Island Business Group on Health? Is this a bridge that needs to be built?
GELLER: Business leaders often attend our presentations and we are happy to make presentations of Rhode Island Kids Count data and policy information to business groups that request them.
PBN: What are the key take-aways that policy makers in Rhode Island need to address from the Central Falls data?
GELLER: Well, given that the General Assembly is ready to reconvene, it would be timely to highlight the importance of continuing to invest in healthy children and families.
Women who are uninsured and not connected to a medical home are more likely to get delayed prenatal care.
A recent analysis of RIte Care, our state’s health insurance program for low-income children and families found that women with RIte Care are less likely to smoke during their pregnancy, more likely to have healthy pregnancies, and less likely to deliver low-birthweight infants, so investing in women and their children early can improve health outcomes. This will save higher medical costs down the road.
The data and discussion at the Central Falls Data in Your Backyard presentation also highlighted the importance of continuing to invest in evidence-based home visiting programs that support young parents and their children. These programs have been shown to reduce child abuse and neglect and improve child and family outcomes.
Finally, the Central Falls presentation highlighted the fact that schools in high poverty communities can raise student achievement and high school graduation rates if they communicate high expectations to students and staff – and provide the kinds of academic and social supports that students need to succeed.
Central Falls can serve as a model to other communities about how to use data to inform their priorities and actions for kids and families.