A recent piece in this newspaper, authored by Elizabeth McGovern (“Salem’s best-kept secret,” April 3), called attention to the current good work and great potential of the Salem Early Childhood Center. I could not agree with her more in regard to the ECC’s potential. I know from experience that, for many children in our community, this is not early enough. I also know from experience that we have in place in Salem an even earlier intervention program that is, as demonstrated in longitudinal studies, even more effective than preschool.
A little history might help. Before there was an Early Childhood Center, there was a publicly funded preschool in Salem. It was the Title 1 Pre-School, founded in 1987 in a break from what had been a rigid state rule that said that Title 1 funds could only be used from kindergarten up. (Title 1 was/is a federally funded program designed to help struggling children in schools affected by poverty to succeed in school.)
In the first year of the preschool’s existence, the teacher called the Title 1 director and asked him to come to the preschool. She pointed out a little boy whose language was extremely limited. She then explained that this 4-year-old boy did not know what a book was. It was not that he couldn’t read or didn’t know all the letters or didn’t connect the pictures with the text — he did not have the concept “book.” He did not know what a book was! He had never seen a book!
It happened that the Title 1 director had just become aware of a program then called the Verbal Interaction Project, which had been created by Phyllis Levenstein, a clinical psychologist on Long Island. She had discovered that many of the young mothers with whom she worked had some things in common, and so did their children.