Building "Packer Brain Power"

 You’ve got to go to where the people are.

I heard an interview with Mavis Staples once in which she described the concerns that people came to her father, Pops Staples, with when The Staples Singers moved into popular music back in the day.

Purists from the gospel ranks asked her father, she said, why, with the inference being that he was somehow leaving the church behind.

To reach the children of the early 70s, Pops said, you had to go to where they were and they weren't in church.

The Staples Singers never changed the message. They took it out of the church and put a little bit more funk into it. Love of self and of others, as Christian a tenet as one is likely to find, remain at the root of “I’ll Take You There,” “Respect Yourself” and any number of their classic songs.

Just because you could dance to it didn’t mean the message was diminished.

That same spirit infuses an effort at the Bellview Athletic Park, where a reading teacher tutors youth league football players on reading comprehension.

What do I like about this pilot project? Let me count the ways:

1. It started at the grassroots level. Linda Moultrie is an Escambia School Board member, but the "Packer Brain Power" half-hour for first-graders in the Bellview Youth Association is taking place outside her elected district. So why there? Her grandchildren play in the league.

Moultrie didn’t let the boundary of her political district dictate the scope of the outreach effort, an great example of putting the common good above self-interest.

2. It takes education out of the classroom and to reach children in a familiar venue. Learning in a low-key environment they already love can help make schoolwork seem less intimidating.

3. It targets children at what is a critical age to help make up the "skills gap." Third-grade is the age where learning to read morphs into reading to learn. If you are behind here, the gap will only widen faster as you progress through school. First-grade is a great time to focus on extra help to breach that gap before it grows.

The district’s new first grade retention policy shows that some kids still are falling behind. The policy was instituted last year as part of an effort to address performance on state standardized tests.

In all, 290 Escambia students -- about 9 percent of the district 3,200 first-graders -- were not reading at grade level and were held back for this school year. After the first grading period of last year, that figure was higher; focused intervention by classroom teachers brought it down to the 9 percent figure by the school year's end.

Which proves that remediation at this age level works -- and is a whole lot cheaper in dollars and sense and societal cost than chalking it up to coming from poverty and leaving it at that. 

The “Brain Power” half-hour may be one small step, but that’s how all journeys of a 1,000 miles begin.

Kudos indeed.