The state of Arkansas has been tracking the progress of its children in hopes of finding solutions to aid all children in exceeding or meeting grade-level requirements in reading and math by the fourth grade. They came up with an initiative called Smart Start. The hope is that the 50% of fourth graders that fell below the 50th percentile in reading and math will improve and be on their way to becoming successful adults.
DeQueen-Mena Educational Cooperative Foster Grandparent Program was developed as a result of the Smart Start initiative. Retired men and women 60 years of age and over came together to aid the schools in Arkansas. The State has used the SAT-9 test as a measurement and learned that 14 of the 16 school districts were in need of assistance. The foster grandparents worked one-on-one with children in kindergarten through fourth grade so that the children would learn the basic skills they had missed in the past. Once those concepts were learned, the children would be able to improve in all subjects, particularly reading and math.
Initially there were 39 foster grandparent volunteers in the 1999–2000 school year. They have grown to 48, and each volunteer serves an average of 20 hours a week. These adults were a consistent part of the children’s lives. Daily they tutored 140 children. DeQueen-Mena volunteers served at five Arkansas counties: Howard, Little River, Sevier, Polk, and Montgomery. The foster grandparents used the Brigance Inventory of Basic Skills and administered a pre-test and post-test to most of the students. Unfortunately, not all students were post-tested due to family moves or transfers.
There were 117 students tested. The children in kindergarten were tested in the areas of recognition of capital and lowercase letters as well as the ability to count and comprehend numbers 1-10. Post-test scores showed an increase of 59% in the recognition of capital letters and a 40% increase in the recognition of lowercase letters. There was a 40% increase in the number of students who could count to 10 and a 74% increase in the number of students who could comprehend the value of numbers 1-10.
Children in the first through fourth grades were tested in reading and math. The number of students reading at or above grade level at the pre-test were compared to the number on level at the post-test. There was an increase of 28% in the number of first graders, a 33% increase in the number of second graders, a 21% increase in the number of third graders, and a 35% increase in the number of fourth graders. All of the students that were tested showed improvement. Eight of the students raised their reading score by two grade levels. In addition to this, 13 of the students raised their reading comprehension by two grade levels, and nine children raised their math score by two grade levels. These statistics show that the DeQueen-Mena Educational Co-op Foster Grandparent made a distinct difference in those children’s lives.