NHPR News Series: The First Decade

The First Decade:  Early Childhood Disparities and the Future of N.H.’s Kids

When it comes to kids’ well-being, New Hampshire ranks high overall in survey after survey.  But the real picture of how kids are faring goes deeper than that.  Children in poor families continue to lose ground in everything from access to health care to quality education to opportunities to play sports.  All this week, NHPR takes a look at how disparities in early childhood shape a child’s chances for success later in life. 

You can see all the stories in the series in the river below, or browse stories by day/topic:

Home & Family - Monday

Health & Nutrition - Tuesday

Education - Wednesday

Play - Thursday

Politics & Policy - Thursday

GaborfromHungary / Morguefile

For many kids, youth  sports is a time to learn things like teamwork, goal setting, time management-skills that often prove valuable off the field and in work settings later in life. But for kids who can’t afford the fees associated with team sports or the equipment or the uniforms or the transportation to away games, these learning opportunities are few and far between. As we look this week at the growing opportunity gap between rich and poor kids in their first decade of life, we turn to Daniel Gould.

Leveling The Playing Field: Digital Games & Children

May 21, 2015
amanda tipton via flickr Creative Commons / flic.kr/p/c8fYHA

In 1983 Ronald Reagan gave a speech at Disney’s Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida extolling his new found understanding of the virtues of video games: “I recently learned something quite interesting about video games.

DonkeyHotey / Flickr Creative Commons

The rhetoric is flying among presidential hopefuls: wealth inequality, working men and women, stagnant wages, the opportunity gap, earned success. But though is everyone is talking about this, division remains wide over the causes and solutions.  We’ll look at the language and the politics behind it.

flickr

All week long, we've has been looking at how disparities in early childhood can shape a child’s chances for later in life.

Issues surrounding what some call the opportunity gap and others call inequality of opportunity, are common concerns of politicians in both parties these days, starting at the very top.

Clappstarr via Flickr CC

Research shows that participation in organized activities, like sports or music lessons, plays a big role in closing the opportunity gap in school, and in life. 

But with the rise of "pay to play" sports in school, and the virtual disappearance of affordable neighborhood piano lessons, there's an increasing gap in the ability of kids from poor families to participate in organized enrichment.

So, how does New Hampshire's gap look?

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

As part of our series, "The First Decade," Gov. Maggie Hassan sat down with NHPR's Morning Edition host Rick Ganley to talk about what role she sees state government playing in helping to close the opportunity gap.

Thunder Hill Elementary via Flickr CC

The incomes of wealthy and poor American families have diverged over the past three decades, so too have the educational outcomes of the children in these families. For more on why money matters when it comes to early childhood education and success later in life, we turn to Greg Duncan. He, along with Richard J. Murnane, is the author of Whither Opportunity?, which looks at the consequences of rising inequality for America’s education. Duncan spoke with NHPR's Peter Biello.
 

The Educational Benefits Of Time Spent Outdoors

May 20, 2015
Logan Shannon / NHPR

We’ve heard the claim before – low-income, urban kids aren’t provided the opportunity to spend enough time in the woods learning about the natural world in a hands-on environment.  But what if outdoor education isn’t just about where you live and what’s around – but is also a product of parenting, classroom based school standards, and an increasingly limited freedom to explore?   

NHPR

Research shows students who attend preschool are more likely to have stability and success as they go through school and through life, yet New Hampshire is behind the national curve when it comes to investing in these programs.

The National Institute for Early Education Research has released its annual report, The State of Preschool, which profiles state-funded programs and tracks national trends around preschool quality and access.

The First Decade: Early Education in N.H.

May 20, 2015
Jason Moon / NHPR

We continue our series The First Decade with early education.  Research shows that a child’s foundation for success in school is established at a very young age, through high-quality care at home or at pre-school - and in New Hampshire, moving from half to full-day kindergarten.  Yet, some also caution that how we teach our youngest kids is just as important as where.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

Kindergarten is a year of transition. Kids are learning how to listen, follow directions, sit still... but while they are making that transition, there’s a lot of mandatory wiggling.

In Mr. Woody’s morning kindergarten class, in Plainfield, a class of students blows off some steam while doing a “wiggle dance.” A stereo plays a children’s song that Mr. Woody sings along to, and the kids giggle and flail.

Sara Plourde | Data: NH Dept. of Education, NH School Administrators Association

The number of New Hampshire public school districts offering full day kindergarten has been on the rise since 1999, when there were fewer than a dozen.
 

Emily Corwin / NHPR

It was just over a year ago, at Keene area School District’s annual board retreat, and Deputy Superintendent Reuben Duncan was expecting the usual conversations about curriculum and finances. The teachers, he says, had something else in mind.

  In five or ten years, Duncan says, elementary school students were coming in without the skills they used to have. “They were coming in without vocabulary, without being able to interact appropriately with other kids, with hygiene issues, not being able to use the bathroom,” he recalls. “And then, there’s the aggressive behaviors.”

mconnors / Morguefile

When children go hungry at school, they’re less able to learn. They also experience higher levels of anxiety, irritability, aggressiveness, and hyperactivity. Often schools provide breakfast and lunch in school during the week, but what happens to those kids over the weekend?

How Scarcity Can Hijack The Brain

May 19, 2015

Studies show that growing up below the poverty line can have serious health implications, but can it have a lasting effect on the brain? We continue NHPR’s series The First Decade with a look at how scarcity can hijack a person’s neural pathways in the brain. Eldar Shafir is Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, where he studies human behavior and decision making in the context of poverty. He is co-author of the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.

The First Decade: Children's Nutrition

May 19, 2015
USDA / Flickr/CC

While New Hampshire has the nation’s lowest official poverty rate, malnourishment is an issue for many low income kids.  And with many short and long-term consequences of poor nutrition in children, the stakes are high. We’re looking at why some kids don’t get enough healthy food, the impacts on their developing brains and bodies,  and some efforts to address this.

NHPR / Michael Brindley

It makes sense that students who eat a healthy breakfast are more likely to perform well at school.

And while data shows that across the country, more students than ever are benefiting from school breakfast programs, the Granite State continues to lag in that area.

A report earlier this year found New Hampshire ranks second to last in participation in the national school breakfast program among low-income students.

Isaias via Flickr CC

In 2000, a committee of researchers compiled nearly a century of knowledge on how children develop from birth to age five. The findings, published in a 600-page book titled From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development, covered everything from the long-standing debate over “nature vs. nurture” to the latest breakthroughs in neuroscience.

David Wilson/Imelda via Flickr CC

As with other health markers, N.H. consistently ranks high in measures of youth dental health and, overall, the state of children's teeth in New Hampshire is strong.

But in some of the state's least affluent areas, health outcomes are generally poor, and dental health is no exception. 

Can Fixing A Child's Environment Help Fix Her Teeth?

May 19, 2015
Jack Rodolico

You probably never would have guessed it, but one of the front lines of public health in New Hampshire is on the second floor of an elementary school in Claremont - in a storage closet. Here a dental hygienist meets with a second grade girl to talk teeth.

The Architecture & Design Of Affordable Housing

May 18, 2015
"Pruitt-igoeUSGS02" by United States Geological Survey - United States Geological Survey, from their website. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pruitt-igoeUSGS02.jpg#/media/File:Pruitt-igoeUSGS02.j

“We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.” Winston Churchill said that in an address to Parliament in 1944, and it remains true today. As part of our station-wide series, “The First Decade,” we’re looking at how the environmental and familial circumstances a child’s first ten years can influence – even determine -- their later lives. Today, housing, neighborhoods and the built environment.  

Researcher: 'Opportunity Gap' Likely To Keep Growing

May 18, 2015
Duboix / Morguefile

New Hampshire has one of the lowest poverty rates in the country, but overall, the gap between the wealthy and the poor is growing. Researchers at the Carsey School of Public Policy in New Hampshire have been looking at the effect this income disparity has on children and their success or failure later in life. Vulnerable Families Research Associate Andrew Schaefer spoke with NHPR’s Peter Biello.

The First Decade: N.H. Family Demographics

May 18, 2015
Emma Fierberg / Flickr Creative Commons

The Granite State has one of the lowest childhood poverty rates in the nation. But behind that rosy figure is a widening gap between children who have and those who have not. As we kick off our series “The First Decade” we’ll look at the causes, effects, and potential solutions for families struggling in New Hampshire.

NHPR / Michael Brindley

Research is clear that parental involvement is critical to a child's success in school. But for a number of factors, that can be difficult for families in low-income households.

Maria Barry is the home and school coordinator for Ledge Street Elementary in Nashua, where 8 out of 10 students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Rick Ganley visited Maria in her office at the school to talk about some of the challenges she faces in her job, as well as some of the success stories she's seen.

Inside New Hampshire's 'Preschool Poverty Gap'

May 18, 2015
playground
Brady Carlson / NHPR

Finding great day care can be hard. Sometimes finding any day care can be hard. Just ask Meghan Hoye of Merrimack, who tried everything to find a place for her three kids.

Wayne Silver Via Flickr CC

According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning, the state's overall population grew from just over 1.1 million in 1990 to more than 1.3 million in 2013, an increase of 19.2%. In that same period of time, there's been a notable drop in kids aged ten and under in the state - the very population we're looking all week at in our special series The First Decade.

A Precipitous Decline 

Sara Plourde for NHPR

There are many factors that affect the way a family with children lives. We've selected ten of these - factors which affect income, access to resources, and stability - and combined them to illustrate how families are doing at either end of the income spectrum.
 
This graphic illustrates how the top 25% and bottom 25% compare, and how the bottom 25% compares with the average of all New Hampshire families. 

Notes on the data:

Paige Sutherland for NHPR

For 32-year-old Melissa Vierra, paying the bills with two kids - 19 months and 10 -  is an equation that seems to never add up.

“If I sat down and figured out my monthly bills, just the straight you know rent, car payment, car insurance, not talking groceries, gas, clothes toiletries, I was about 500 dollars short every month,” she said.

For some time now, agreement has seemed near-universal that there is a growing chasm between those with great wealth in this country and the rest of the population. That recognition has even bridged our otherwise entrenched political divide, with both Republicans and Democrats tackling the problem, especially on the campaign trail. But despite the recent urgency, there are differences.