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Cradle to Classroom — a better way to help first-time mothers in Chicago’s schools

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Family Connects Chicago program — limited to four hospitals, with counseling of short duration and no pre-natal services — does not go far enough.

Former Chicago Public Schools head Paul Vallas argues in a letter to the editor for reconsideration of a program called Cradle to Classroom to help young first-time mothers.
Former Chicago Public Schools head Paul Vallas argues in a letter to the editor for reconsideration of a program called Cradle to Classroom to help young first-time mothers.
Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Family Connects Chicago program is designed to provide coaching and support services for first-time mothers during the critical weeks around childbirth.

However, a program limited to four hospitals, with counseling of short duration and no pre-natal services, does not go far enough.

Instead, why not embrace a comprehensive early childhood program that has demonstrated the ability not only to reduce infant mortality but also close the achievement gap for students, dramatically increase graduation rates for teen mothers, and significantly reduce repeat pregnancies?

SEND LETTERS TO: letters@suntimes.com. Please include your neighborhood or hometown and a phone number for verification purposes.

The Cradle to the Classroom program, started at the Chicago Public Schools in 1997 and inexplicably abandoned in 2004, did all that and should be restored. The program connected expectant teens with a “parent coach” — who made sure they received proper pre-natal care through weekly home visits with ongoing health care. Children received early literacy, numeracy and vocabulary programming until they entered kindergarten.

The program also reduced costs associated with delivery, long-term health care and special education services. By 2002 in the Chicago Public Schools, it was serving 2,500 teen parents, including some fathers, along with 2,235 infants — roughly a third of all children born to teens in Chicago that year.

A major component of the program was to train the mother, and possibly the father, if identified and involved, to be a parent equipped with the skills and supports for the child’s early nutrition, health care and early education needs. Trained parent coaches, from the community and supervised by early childhood administrators, provided the bulk of the service.

The Cradle to Classroom program also was highly effective in providing employment for hard-working inner-city mothers, who were trained to serve as parent coaches. At its peak, it employed 550 people, mostly parents, who served 2,500 pregnant teens annually. While Mayor Lightfoot’s Family Connect program is a step in the right direction, Cradle to Classroom would give Chicago the capacity to address the need on a much greater scale.

Paul Vallas, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools from 1995 to 2001

Tradition of fellowship still exists in CPS

How nice to see an optimistic article about a Chicago public school, “Students give thanks for America and Sullivan High” by Neil Steinberg.

I taught at Sullivan for 25 years, through 2005. Back then, the enrollment varied from 800 to over 1200 students who represented dozens of countries from around the world.

It was said that there were over 80 different languages spoken at the time. We always celebrated International Day, featuring traditional clothing, food and music with colorful flags hanging everywhere.

I remember one year in particular, when I had students from Afghanistan and Tibet in my vocal music class, along with new arrivals from the Soviet Union, Haiti, Belize, Jamaica, the Philippines, Bosnia, Nigeria, India and Pakistan and the Middle and Far East.

It was one of the nicest classes ever. It is good to know that the tradition of fellowship and welcome is still going strong.

Rosagitta Podrovsky, Skokie