RED Ahead

The education gap

What Research Shows

Children from economically disadvantaged families can be up to two years behind in language development before they enter school when compared to their higher-income peers. This is due in part to the fact that children of low-income families hear as little as one-third the amount of words that children from higher-income families hear.

That equates to a 30-million word gap by the time the two groups of children are four years old. In 2009, a Department of Education study showed that half of Linn County low-income five-year-olds were not ready for kindergarten.

Why We Started RED Ahead

In response, United Way of East Central Iowa organized a group of local early childhood experts to determine what gaps existed in the community that, if filled, could get children back on track. Together, they created the RED Ahead program.

RED Ahead (or Read Every Day to get Ahead) provides parents information and activities to help their young children develop the language skills they need to be ready for kindergarten. Based in two local Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) clinics run by the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP), RED Ahead addresses the opportunity gap that exists for lower-income children. Modeling provides parents with the confidence to recreate the activities at home and the developmental screening provides parents tools to check if their child needs additional attention. RED Ahead then helps these parents get the services they need.

RED Ahead Progress

RED Ahead families made great progress in 2016. Here are highlights of the program and how it impacts families in Linn County:

  • Distributed 10,426 books to 4,432 children
  • Provided 3,024 families developmental education and activities
  • Screened 585 children for developmental progress
  • Provided 94 children specific activities to increase development
    • Of these, the program made 47 referrals for children’s needs

Developmental screenings also show a strong growth in cognitive and early literacy skills, while demographic data shows that RED Ahead targets those most in need of assistance. Read the full impact report here.

Family Success Stories

Recently, a mom and her four-year-old son visited RED Ahead. As they discussed her son’s language and development, she mentioned that before RED Ahead, her son wouldn’t even speak. She said that because of everything RED Ahead has done to help him, “Now, he won’t stop talking!”

A young mother came to RED Ahead excited to get more books for her newborn. She was finishing high school and had been reading textbooks to her baby while she studied.

When she asked if that was okay, staff assured her she was doing great things for her child! They encouraged her to keep reading and talking to her newborn, keep up the good work in school, and contact them if she needed assistance. RED Ahead was able to give her more books to take home to read with her baby, as well.

RED Ahead gave a mom the book, “The Monster at the End of the Book” to read to her son. She became very excited and said, “That was my absolute favorite book when I was growing up! Now, he will have his own copy. I’m so excited to read this to him!”

A mother recently called RED Ahead to ask if they had another copy of a book she received awhile ago. She had been through a difficult time lately, having to place one child in residential treatment and the other two into foster care.

She talks to the younger two every night and had been reading their one remaining RED Ahead book over the phone to them. She was hoping to get a second copy so they could follow along as she read.

RED Ahead was able to order another copy and also gave the mom two copies of several other books so they could have a variety.