Rolling/flying down the runway

Young children sing in a classroom setting with a teacher.

Ever traveled by jet? Not everyone has, I know. If you have, though, you know that moment as the jet is rolling down the runway. It’s after the huge initial acceleration that pushes you deep into your seat, and after the moment when you realize: “Wow, we’re really moving!” You wait. Seconds tick by.

You’re waiting for the jet’s front wheels to rise majestically off the runway. There’s that moment where the front wheels are up, while the back wheels are still on the runway. You’re rolling/flying all at the same time.

In the next moment, you’re no longer rolling, you’re flying. Off you go!

Tuesday, Nov. 1 was a rolling/flying moment for me, and for over a hundred of the like-minded parents and professionals who gathered at Goshen’s College Mennonite Church to learn about and participate in the Building Strong Brains program for our county’s future.

Have you heard of it? Five Elkhart County organizations have been diligently working with parents and educational providers, in consultation with an international expert on community development, to build a better future for our children and, well, all of us. The work started over a year ago (that accelerating push), developed momentum this summer when work teams developed strategies and proposals (“We’re really moving!”), and then on Nov. 1 the front wheels kissed the runway goodbye.

“Where is this jet heading?” You ask. Speakers from each organization showed us the flight plan. It’s comprehensive, research-based, proven effective, and available here. Our keynote speaker for the day, Dr. Dana Suskind, a national expert on intellectual and social development in children, inspired us with her message – and declared our flight plan to be solid and on target. 

Dana (“Only my patients can call me Doctor!”) described her own journey. She specializes in a surgery that brings hearing to previously deaf toddlers, and she came to realize that some of the toddlers quickly benefited, and others never benefited. She discovered that for the surgery to “take,” the toddlers had to be in conversations – hearing and speaking – all day long. More generally, she discovered that healthy brain development for all toddlers requires the Three T’s: tune in, talk more, and take turns. She has become nationally known for this message, with two bestselling books (get a free copy of her latest, “Parent Nation,” at any Elkhart County library while supplies last), and an organization that advocates for children.

Her story was moving: the exhilaration of helping children hear for the first time, the grief and confusion when so many didn’t benefit, the growing realization of what children need for strong brains, and the commitment to make that her mission.

Another moving moment came when Candy Yoder of CFEC reported on kindergarten readiness: only 42% of Elkhart County children enter kindergarten with the basic skills and abilities needed for success. Our sadness turned to resolve when she voiced a commitment of her own, one we can all embrace: let’s change that number to 62%, and then 72%, and keep going!

The back wheels of our jet will leave the ground soon, as we begin staffing the proposed organization so that we can enter the first leg of our journey. You’ll want a window seat, because the view will be spectacular: our venture promises to increase the qualities that make employers want to hire: reading and math proficiency, increased responsibility and maturity – while reducing the problems that keep us up at night: dropouts, unemployment, substance abuse, incarceration, etc.

But mostly – as in what matters most – this flight will help parents do what they want more than anything else in the world: to give their children a great start in life. And we know from tons of research that kids who get off to a great start go on to do great things. 

So the rolling/flying on Nov. 1 was great fun – the enthusiasm and energy among the participants was inspiring all by itself. I hope a little of that enthusiasm comes across in what I’m writing – enough that you’ll click on this link (the same as the one above) to learn all about what we’re doing. 

Can’t wait to get fully airborne. Up, up, and away!

Brian Wiebe is the President/CEO of Horizon Education Alliance.

From left, Rosannah Mack of enFocus, LaTosha Bosse of Beacon Health, Candy Yoder of Community Foundation of Elkhart County, Sarah Metzler of Horizon Education Alliance, Dr. Dana Suskind, Rebecca Shetler Fast of CAPS, Shin-Yee Tan of The Source, Brian Wiebe of HEA, and Natalie Evans of Crossroads United Way pose for a picture on Nov. 1, 2022, after the launch of the Building Strong Brains initiative in Elkhart County.

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