Certain research including that of Dr. Joseph Torgesen points to a specific window of opportunity for language development, a particularly important age is four years. Such research would appear to lend credence to the educational value of Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program. And that education value translates into an economic value because, as most educators will readily attest, “we can pay now or we can pay later”. As we look at where to invest precious dollars, it’s perhaps wise to consider the cost of remediation at the third grade level compared to a strategic investment at an earlier age.
Last year Berrien RESA chose to invest in GrapeSEED. The intensive, 30-minute daily GrapeSEED program was integrated into the GSRP program in 19 GSRP classrooms.
The unusually high level of student engagement was what first caught the attention of Eric Hoppstock, the assistant superintendent at Berrien RESA. “What impressed me right out of the gate was, here you have four-year-olds, fully engaged for 30 minutes. And we know that an engaged student is a learning student.”
Hoppstock described the program as a “language-rich, pre-reading environment”. Referring to Torgesen, he noted the 4 to 6-year-old time frame is when phonological awareness is happening. For kids who have this in place, the next step, the reading phase, comes easily. But for those who struggle, a boost is needed. This boost provides the at-risk child the necessary foundation for onward success in the language.
Berrien RESA’s investment appears to have paid off. In the research studyconducted since, over 400 children tested before and after a year of using GrapeSEED showed dramatic improvement in multiple areas including word structure, expressive vocabulary, recalling sentences and recalling sentences in context – in addition to phonological awareness.
A subset of the students will be tracked as they move into kindergarten where they will be compared against peers who did not get GrapeSEED. (On a side note, longitudinal studies on the east side of the state of Michigan appear to substantiate a dose effect, that is to say, the more the use of GrapeSEED, the better the gains, and, importantly, the gains stick.)
Most exciting to Hoppstock is the fresh hope for breaking the generational cycle of poverty afflicting many of the GSRP families. “One way of breaking the cycle is to give the child a better educational experience than their parents had – that is the ticket out,” Hoppstock said, adding, “We are excited about how we can accomplish that.”