The achievement gap between students of color and their white counterparts in Dane County has been an area of concern for the past several years. In addition to what the Madison School District is doing to try and eliminate the gap, a local grassroots organization is hoping to reduce the achievement gap before kids start kindergarten.
Harold Rayford, pastor of The Faith Place Church in Sun Prairie and President of the African American Council of Churches, will launch the 1800 Days initiative on Tuesday, March 29, at 6 p.m. at the Central Madison Public Library.
1800 Days is a nonprofit organization focusing on a child’s first five years of life where significant intellectual development takes place, said Rayford. The emphasis will be on early childhood development so children can be academically and intellectually equipped to start kindergarten and stay on track once in school.
Rayford said the idea came about after he volunteered as an assistant librarian in a local middle school for about four years. He said he initially began the role to help teachers interact with minority students, but over time he realized the achievement gap was an issue that needed participation from everyone in the community, including minority groups.
“I started to recognize the students in the school as my children and children that go to my church. So I started talking to other pastors and we all wanted to eliminate the achievement gap, and I talked to other groups too. But no one could really figure out how to go about it and where to start,” Rayford said.
“When you consider the first five years of life you know those are the most important years of a child’s development. Their intellectual development happens at a greater rate between the ages of one to five.”
Rayford said he chose to call the project 1800 Days because viewing the work in terms of days rather than years is more pressing. He said the initiative hopes to make “every single day count.”
Prior to his work in the schools, Rayford thought the achievement gap started in kindergarten and grew worse over time. But according to his observations he now believes it begins much earlier than that.
“The gap starts day one of life and it’s not identified in many cases until day one of kindergarten. We want to start by eliminating the achievement gap for the children before they get there so they won’t begin at a disadvantage. It’s really difficult to make up for lost time,” he said.
Rayford said all the African-American churches in Dane County have agreed to partner with 1800 Days, in addition to community centers, United Way and several libraries. He also said all the school districts in Dane County, including Madison, have agreed to work with Rayford on the initiative.
Rayford said he hopes to pass out 20,000 brochures on 1800 Days in the next few weeks.
On the 1800 Days website, a guide is available for parents to download that will help them track the growth and development of their children. Rayford and his team created a document with benchmarks children should reach from birth to age five.
1800 Days will encourage parents to use community resources such as libraries for their children, and mentor parents on how to raise their kids and make sure they have the guidance they need.
“It can be done; we have great teachers and resources. We have to identify the problem and attack it and that’s what 1800 days will do,” Rayford said.