Providence Talks Replication: Building city-wide impact one family at a time in Hartford


city skyline graphic

In 2019, five U.S. cities were selected to receive a three-year grant to replicate the widely celebrated Providence Talks early literacy program. As the grant period draws to a close, we’re sharing their stories of what worked. In this post: Hartford Talks.

Hartford, Conn., has put LENA’s “talk pedometer” technology into the hands of early educators across the city. The goal: to make a measurable difference in the lives of Hartford’s infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. That means their early language development, their social-emotional development, their kindergarten readiness, and the overall health of the relationships that will help shape their futures.

Looking back, we can evaluate the early successes of Hartford Talks in so many ways:

  • The number of early childhood educators who have completed the LENA Grow program’s practice-based professional development (150+).
  • The number of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who have benefitted from wearing the LENA device in early care and education settings (400+).
  • The significant increase in conversational turns experienced by those children (+46%).

In addition to looking back, though, it’s just as important to look forward. What’s in store for the program’s future? Can Hartford Talks sustain the momentum it has built up?

All signs point to a resounding “yes,” as Hartford Talks is set to be a key component of the newly established North Hartford Ascend Pipeline initiative. Moving forward, Hartford Talks intends to take what they’ve learned from implementing LENA in child care settings and translate it into a program focused on parents. A handful of families have already completed Hartford Talks’ LENA Start program, and the city’s plans for expansion are bold.

“We are committed to getting LENA known everywhere within the Hartford community,” said Hartford Talks coordinator Magdalene Garcia. “Once you meet people who have done the program, you see their passion.”

Zoom meeting with four families celebrating LENA Start graduation

In a virtual graduation ceremony, Hartford Talks coordinator Magdalene Garcia celebrates with LENA Start families.

Jaimie’s story: Still learning with baby number three

“The boss of the house”: That’s how Jaimie Poland describes her daughter. Sakari is the youngest of three — her older brothers are Jashari and Jelani — and her mom describes her as outspoken, funny, and kind. She attends Pre-K at one of Hartford’s NAEYC-accredited early learning centers, where her teachers had already completed the LENA Grow professional development program.

Sakari smiling

Sakari participated in LENA Start with her mom in 2021.

When she heard about the program from Magdalene, Jaimie was quick to recognize that LENA Start was an opportunity for her, the mom, just as much as it was an opportunity for her daughter. It was an opportunity to learn about Sakari’s developing brain and to discover strategies for increasing interactive talk. Jaimie participated in LENA Start through Hartford Talks with Sakari in 2021.

“Even though I’m a mother of three, everyone still needs to be educated on certain things, and I feel like I definitely got that from the program,” Jaimie said. “Child development has always been something that piqued my interest, just learning how that interaction was helping with her growth.”

Since her teachers had already done LENA Grow, Sakari was accustomed to wearing the LENA device during her LENA Days. “I thought at first she wasn’t going to go for it,” Jaimie said, “but it honestly didn’t even bother her.”

Likewise, Jaimie had already heard enough about the technology to put to rest any of the safety or privacy concerns parents sometimes have.

Hartford Talks also gave Jaimie the opportunity to connect with other parents trying to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With COVID, it was very complicated when you’re trying to become a schoolteacher to three kids,” she said, “but we definitely pushed through.”

Tanika’s story: Building language across generations

Among the other parents in Jaimie’s LENA Start sessions was Tanika Johnson, who has three girls — Avery, Sariah, and Bria, the youngest.

“Independent” is the first word that comes to mind when Tanika thinks of Bria: “She does not want anybody helping her with her shoes, her clothes, anything.”

Bria’s teachers, like Sakari’s, completed LENA Grow when she was two years old, meaning she was used to the device when Tanika participated in LENA Start with her soon after.

“As soon as she woke up,” Tanika said, “I put it on her and we went about our business. I’d put it on her and forget about it.”

The little things like that have made a difference, she says. “Since the program, I’ve made sure that with everything I do with her, I help her build her words, try to make sure she’s able to talk to me, and also read more books.”

City-wide impact, one family at a time

For Hartford Talks coordinator Magdalene Garcia, these stories of individual impact are the main motivator. Jaimie and Tanika’s enthusiasm help her envision the program’s bright future.

“What I love about them is that they want the best for their children,” Magdalene said. “And when we create strong enrichment programs for Hartford kids from an early age, that makes a big difference for our whole community.  That’s why we’re so proud of Hartford Talks and all the youth enrichment programs we have to offer.”

With the success of LENA Grow in their early learning centers, Hartford wants to continue recruiting LENA Start participants from among the parents of children whose teachers have completed LENA Grow. Magdalene wants to use LENA to help build connections between teachers and parents, to bridge the classroom and the home.

In addition to continuing the Grow-to-Start recruitment pipeline, the city will partner with various family agencies to offer LENA Start to additional families.

Webinar — Providence Talks Replication: Celebrating and Working Ahead

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The LENA Team is a dedicated group of professionals who are passionate about increasing awareness of the importance of early interactive talk. We are statisticians, speech-language pathologists, curriculum specialists, engineers, and linguists.

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