Imagine a group of girls aged 3-5 preparing for their first “Tiny Toes” ballet lesson at the Lake View YMCA in Chicago. Today, they will learn first and second position, but that’s not all. Their instructor is trained in early childhood development and knows that the girls’ brains are forming 700 new neural connections every second, eagerly soaking up new words, numbers and symbols. The instructor is careful to foster a supportive classroom environment because she knows children learn best when they feel safe. As the mini-ballerinas plié to the music, they count to eight and then point to the letter “B” for ballet.
What if every program across YMCA of Metro Chicago was designed to encourage the development of the whole child using best practices informed by scientific research? That’s exactly what the Y is working to accomplish through a new Learning & Evaluation department.
The Y has used research to guide its programming and practice. Learning & Evaluation takes this commitment to evidence-based practice even further to ensure that every employee, from Head Start teachers to camp counselors and after-school mentors, has access to the most effective methods to serve all Chicagoland children and youth.
“With a resource like Learning & Evaluation, the Y can confidently say, ‘Here’s what science is telling us works for children and families, and here’s how we’re implementing those practices across the organization,’” - Bela Moté, senior vice president of Learning & Evaluation.
For example, research shows that the academic achievement gap can start as early as 9 months of age. That’s why even the youngest children in our school and sports programs can benefit from academic enrichment.
For the Y, it’s not enough to promise that we’re making a difference. We need to measure our impact.
Learning & Evaluation has partnered with social science researchers at the University of Chicago to track the effects of Y after-school programming on school attendance and academic performance. Assessments were developed based on proven research models to measure where our youth stand before and after participating in Y programs. Many more assessment initiatives are rolling out in 2014.
Back in ballet class, the ballerinas are learning letters and numbers while balancing on their toes. With Learning & Evaluation, Y programs and services will be poised to support their holistic development all the way through high school.
“Quality services and quality programs matter, especially to the most at-risk populations. We've made it a priority to continuously improve through focus, rigor and transparency," - Richard Malone, president and CEO, YMCA of Metro Chicago.