RWU School of Continuing Studies' Providence Talks Program Reaches 2,500 Participants

Nationally-recognized program aiming to close the word gap in Providence celebrates milestone

Press conference announcing that Providence Talks reaches 2,500 participants
Caitlin Molina, executive director of Providence Talks, announces that the program has reached 2,500 participants.
Courtesy of City of Providence

PROVIDENCE, RI – Mayor Jorge O. Elorza announced on Feb. 27 that Providence Talks, a program in partnership with the RWU School of Continuing Studies and the City of Providence, has reached more than 2,500 children, accounting for 20 percent of the city’s eligible population.

Developed during Bloomberg Philanthropies’ 2013 Mayors Challenge, Providence Talks is a nationally recognized program that aims to close the 30 million-word gap on a citywide scale to ensure every child enters kindergarten ready to succeed.

“Providence is 'all in' for education as we continue our cradle-to-career investments,” said Mayor Elorza. “Providence Talks has reached its initial goal of helping 2,500 children close the 30 million-word gap. It's the only program of its kind working at scale to address this specific issue and we're proud to have incubated it in our city.”

Providence Talks, in partnership with Ready to Learn Providence, has recently become a program of the School of Continuing Studies at Roger Williams University. Under Dean Jamie Scurry's leadership, Providence Talks will continue to support Providence parents and caregivers in improving the language environment of their children at a time when brain development science indicates that language development is most critical, with a goal of ultimately preparing them for academic success in kindergarten and beyond.

“Providence Talks provides parents and caregivers with an opportunity to transform the trajectory of their child’s education,” said Caitlin Molina, executive director of Providence Talks. “We are proud to serve as a national model to cities around the world that wish to start their own efforts to close the word gap.”

Providence Talks offers three service delivery models to improve the language environment for infants and toddlers. In 2016, Providence Talks and Ready to Learn Providence launched a comprehensive, first of its kind professional development series for early childhood educators that focuses on improving the language development for children in early learning programs, both center-based and home-based. The program offers both English and Spanish and features the use of innovative technology to track, and measure, the language environment of classrooms.

“Over 250 educators working with infants and toddlers in programs throughout the city have completed this professional development series and, thanks to the technology, we know that educators are learning and implementing strategies that support language and literacy development, a critical component of kindergarten readiness and school success,” said Leslie Gell, director of Ready to Learn Providence. “They are also sustaining the practices, indicating that the beneficiaries are not only their current children, but children they will care for in the future.”

Providence Talks combines new technology, a ‘talk pedometer’ supplied by LENA, which counts the number of words and conversational interactions children experience throughout the day, with well-trained coaches, who use this new technology, along with complementary qualitative measures, to give parents and caregivers practical tips about how to enhance opportunities for meaningful engagement with their child during their day-to-day routine.

This innovative program is committed to ensuring that every child, no matter their economic background, receives the supports necessary to enter a kindergarten classroom ready to succeed. In fact, 60% of children who completed the Providence Talks program are hearing 50% more words than when they enrolled.

Providence Talks was the grand prizewinner of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ inaugural Mayors Challenge, winning $5 million to bring the idea to life. The Mayors Challenge is an ideas competition that encourages mayors and their teams to come up with bold, new ideas that have the potential to solve urban problems and improve quality of life. Mayor Elorza allocated $500,000 in funding for the program in the City’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget.