Miss Ruby’s KidsHistory of the Organization
Deep pockets of poverty and resulting poor school performance in Georgetown County, South Carolina, prompted the founders of Miss Ruby’s Kids to look for ways to resolve these critical needs. The focus was improved school readiness which would result in successful completion of a high school diploma. An article in Parade magazine sparked an interest in the Parent-Child Home Program (ParentChild+), a model that has successfully addressed this problem in other communities for over fifty years. In February 2003, the founders, Jo Fortuna and Betsy Marlow, applied to the Parent-Child Home Program (ParentChild+) to open a replication site in Georgetown County.
Miss Ruby’s Kids began working with five families in October 2003 and continued to increase the number of families served each year until the number of families served reached 60. Miss Ruby’s Kids targets two and three-year-old children who are at a critical stage of their intellectual development. The Parent-Child Home Program (ParentChild+) brings trained Early Learning Specialists (formerly – Home Visitors) into these children’s homes twice a week for two years to introduce habits and routines designed to instill an eagerness to learn and to encourage increased verbal interaction between the parents and their children. Using carefully selected books and educational toys, the Early Learning Specialists (Home Visitors) interact in creative play sessions, offering support and educational guidance to the parents and children. The visits, books, and toys are gifts to the families. Miss Ruby’s Kids also offers a group model of the Parent-Child Home Program (ParentChild+) for family childcare providers. In this special group model, the childcare provider is the target of the twice weekly visits. The Early Learning Specialist (Home Visitor) focuses on the provider, modeling how to use the books and toys within the facility setting and assisting the provider in creating a literacy rich environment for the children in her care. In January 2009 Miss Ruby’s Kids began serving program graduates with an in-school mentoring program called the Education Mentor Program. Trained volunteer mentors visit the children once a week and provide much needed support for them as they progress in their educational journey.
Initially the program was sponsored by Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church and in April, 2004 joined Baskervill Outreach, Inc. On January 1, 2006, Miss Ruby’s Kids began operating under the fiscal sponsorship of Georgetown County United Way. In June of 2006, Miss Ruby’s Kids obtained independent 501 (c) (3) status under which the organization continues to operate. Community support was sought and successfully initiated through the establishment of a Friends of Miss Ruby’s Kids in the fall of 2004. We continue to be supported with yearly mail solicitations, friend-raising campaigns, and public relations efforts. In the spring of 2007, Miss Ruby’s Kids held its first successful garden party fundraiser, which continued annually until 2018 and has now been replaced with our Mardi Gras Gala in February each year. Other events include a online Palmetto Giving Day in May of each year, a Kitchen & Garden Tour of Homes, and popular quarterly Dining for a Cause opportunities at local restaurants.
Miss Ruby’s Kids is named for Ruby Middleton Forsythe (1905-1992), an African-American educator from Charleston, South Carolina. In 1938, she began teaching with her husband in a one-room schoolhouse in the Pawleys Island community. “Miss Ruby,” as she was affectionately known by her students, played an active role in the school until shortly before her death. In 1988, she received an honorary doctorate degree from South Carolina State University for her tireless work in education. Ruby Middleton Forsythe died in 1992, but her dream of equal educational opportunities for all children continues through this program.
The intractable “achievement gap” continues to be the nation’s most critical education challenge. A majority of the 5 million children in the U.S. living in low-income families are unprepared for pre-k or kindergarten and enter school significantly behind their middle/higher income peers. This gap is even larger if you are low-income and black or Latino. When they reach kindergarten, low-income children, on average, have less than two age-appropriate books in their homes, and have had only 25 hours of 1-on-1 reading time compared to the over 1,100 hours middle-income children receive. In fact, the gap emerges well before kindergarten.
By the time low-income children are three, they have heard significantly fewer words than their middle-income peers.
Research shows that daily reading and regular conversation with a caring adult are the foundation of early literacy and school success, without this extensive exposure to language, reading materials, and conversation, children enter school behind. Children who enter school already on the wrong side of the gap are likely to remain behind in first grade and in third grade, and they are more likely than their “ready” peers to drop out of school.
Miss Ruby’s Kids, using the ParentChild+ model, addresses this need through a deliberately targeted approach designed to connect and be effective with families isolated by poverty, language and literacy barriers, and limited education. Miss Ruby’s Kids works with low-income families with children between the ages of two and four years, providing a critical connection to early childhood education and school readiness that is able to reach parents and children together at home, before the children enter school. Providing parents with the skills, tools including books and educational toys, and encouragement to read, play, and talk with their children, prepares parents to be their children’s first and most important teachers, creates literacy and language-rich home environments, and effectively prepares children for school success. Utilizing community-based Early Learning Specialists, who speak the languages of and share cultural backgrounds with the families we are trying to reach, enables our Program to engage and retain families and strengthens communities.