By Mayor Martin Walsh and Ron Ferguson
Here in Boston, we are committed to creating an equitable city for all. Reaching this goal requires many approaches. But if we really want to create more opportunities for success and close the achievement gap in our city once and for all, our primary focus needs to be on our children. That’s where the work begins.
As the science tells us, 80 percent of a child’s brain growth happens during the first three years of life. Racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic skill gaps can become apparent by the age of two. How we engage our babies and toddlers in those first years are critical. We must foster stimulating learning environments across all households and neighborhoods in our city.
That purpose is what brought organizations like the Black Philanthropy Fund, Boston Children’s Museum, the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard, Boston Medical Center, WGBH, and the City of Boston together to launch the Boston Basics campaign.
Since 2016, this handful of partners has grown to over 100 partners, large and small, all across our city. And we’ve worked with thousands of parents and caregivers. We’re leveraging the great resources and partnerships that exist in our city to make this effort a success. The key to this approach is saturation—making the Boston Basics pervasive all throughout our neighborhoods. We’re taking the Basics to people where they are: in Boston’s daycares, pediatric waiting rooms, barbershops, churches, and places of worship.
And the best part of the Boston Basics experience is the videos that are engaging, simple, and fun. Each video shows parents easy ways to maximize love and manage stress; talk, sing and point; count, group, and compare; explore through movement and play; and read and discuss stories with their infants and toddlers. They are available in a range of languages, including English, Spanish and Haitian Creole.
The Boston Basics team has been gathering input from parents in Boston’s neighborhoods. One mother of a two-year old son spoke about how the Boston Basics videos helped her realize how it important it was for her son to be observing and exploring the different things around him, especially at places like the park. After following the tips from the videos, she found her son was talking much more than ever before and was eager to identify everything around him.
Another mother with two daughters, a seven-month old and a four-year old, also shared her appreciation for the Basics videos. She’s reading and playing with her daughters more often. Her youngest daughter is trying to express herself more and the oldest daughter’s speech is greatly improving.
We’re seeing similar outcomes happening across the city. Since 2016, we’ve trained staff at our partner organizations, reaching over 120 participants representing more than 20 parent-serving agencies who regularly engage thousands of parents and caregivers each year. Partner organizations have delivered over 40 workshops reaching hundreds of parents and caregivers.
Last month, we celebrated the Week of the Young Child, an annual event hosted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. It recognizes the importance of early learning, young children, their teachers and families. During the week, the Boston Basics campaign launched a robust marketing effort to build on the great momentum, awareness, and engagement achieved so far.
For Week of the Young Child, Boston Basics tested a saturation model in Mattapan that reflects a commitment to engage at a community and grassroots level. We plan to replicate this model in neighborhoods across the city.
We’ve grown a lot in just a year. But we have more work to do, and more babies, toddlers, and families to reach. We are determined to spread the Boston Basics to every child and family in our city.
The heart of the Boston Basics campaign is our partners. We need everyone’s help. We’ve seen the powerful impact we can achieve when we rally together as a City. We need to rally around our children to make sure they’re truly ready for kindergarten and beyond. What we do right now as a City will impact all of our future students in Boston. Together, we can make sure we give every child the strong start in life that they deserve.
Martin J. Walsh is Mayor of Boston. Ron Ferguson is the Faculty Director at the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University.
To learn more about the Boston Basics Campaign, visit boston.thebasics.org.