Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur has earned a reputation as a numbers man.
On Wednesday he employed that same attention he applies to city claims and the award of contracts and bids to data he was provided by Rhode Island Kids Count. But unlike numbers, the answers he sought were not quantifiable.
Ladouceur called increases in school absences, bullying and violence alarming. The number of third graders who can’t read also troubles him.
“How do you make parents become parents?” he asked.
Recalling how his parents followed his progress as a child and took measures when he stepped out of line or performed poorly in school, Ladouceur said, a culture is being developed where teachers are expected to step into the role of parents.
Ladouceur’s questions and observation came at the conclusion of a 45-minute presentation, “Warwick Data in Your Backyard,” by Stephanie Geller of Rhode Island Kids Count, sponsored by the Warwick Coalition to Prevent Child Abuse. The presentation was held at the Tides Restaurant at the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center.
Apart from Ladouceur and Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis, Mayor Joseph Solomon, Representative Camille Vella-Wilkinson, Police Chief Stephen McCartney as well as representatives from Volunteers of Warwick Schools (VOWS), the J. Arthur Trudeau Memorial Center, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Warwick, CCAP, Kent County YMCA, Mentor Rhode Island, Tides Family Services, the RI Community Food Bank and Child Inc. were in attendance.
In response to Ladouceur, Geller suggested giving parents the resources such as high quality learning summer programs for their children, thereby empowering them. She also made a connection between low test scores and absences, suggesting that some parents don’t see the importance of attendance in early elementary grades. Those trends not only impact test scores but also set a modality that is carried forward into middle and high school, possibly leading to school dropouts.
Geller feels it is important that parents see schools as partners and that they aren’t being looked down upon. She called on schools to empower parents.
Asked what she felt was a noteworthy Warwick achievement, Geller pointed to the city’s improved graduation rate of 86 percent, up from 79 percent five years ago. As for what Warwick could do to improve, Geller called for universal breakfast where all children are provided breakfast at no cost “an easy fix.”
This is not the first year universal breakfast has been singled out as a means of improving test scores and attendance. At this time, Oakland Beach School is the only school offering universal breakfast. As of October 2017, 17 percent of the city’s low-income children eligible for a free breakfast were participating in the program. A universal breakfast program would remove the stigma attached to free breakfasts for low-income students.
Karen Ostrowsky, vice chair of the Warwick Coalition to Prevent Child Abuse, called the data invaluable in the coalition’s efforts and thanked Rhode Island Kids Count for their work.
Some of the facts: