Bus shelter murals, the Office of Early Childhood Initiatives' latest project, encourage parents to the their child's 'first teacher'

18 Jul 2022 7:22 AM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

A Milwaukee County Transit System bus passes a bus shelter near 6410 W. Silver Spring Drive on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. The shelter has recently been adorned with a colorful mural. This mural is part of the City of Milwaukee Office of Early Childhood Initiatives "Pop Spots" mural series meant to promote early literacy and parental involvement with young children.

Say goodbye to restless, squirming youngsters at the bus stop.

Milwaukee children and families now have something fun and educational to do while waiting for the bus.  

Twenty-four Milwaukee County Public Transit bus shelters around city will soon be adorned with colorful, interactive murals as part of the city's Office of Early Childhood Initiatives' "Pop Spots" mural program. 

The murals are the latest of OECI's many efforts to promote early childhood learning and literacy in Milwaukee's public spaces through its Mighty Small Moments campaign.

The campaign encourages parents to prepare their young children for success in school by incorporating simple, educational activities into their daily routines.

The murals will direct parents to engage their children in a variety of activities including counting, reading, storytelling, physical activity, and identifying shapes, colors and food.

The collection of murals includes designs in both English and Spanish, and some even feature cultural elements significant to the bus shelter's location, said Gary Mueller, creative director of Serve Marketing, the nonprofit advertising agency that helped design the murals.

The first mural was unveiled last week at a bus shelter on the city's northwest side at the intersection of West Silver Spring Drive and North 64th Street. It depicts a young boy and his father preparing to ride the bus. The illustration is accompanied by a short story.

According to Milwaukee Public Schools senior director of curriculum and instruction Felicia Saffold, this first mural promotes language development by encouraging children to engage with a story. Reading a story with your child also strengthens the parent-child bond, Saffold said.

Ultimately, the goal of the mural project is to create accessible learning spaces, especially for children ages 5 and under.

Saffold said this age group represents a "critical window for development" and is an important time to prepare children for success in kindergarten and beyond.

Four of the murals will be near MPS schools.

According to the 2018-2019 MPS District Report Card, more than 57% of economically disadvantaged MPS students achieved below basic proficiency in English language arts.

Statistics like these are why, when Office of Early Childhood Initiatives director Dea Wright began working with MCTS to decide on locations for the murals, she prioritized under-resourced ZIP codes where she said children are more likely to have a smaller vocabulary and fewer reading skills when entering kindergarten.

According to Milwaukee Public Schools senior director of curriculum and instruction Felicia Saffold, this first mural promotes language development by encouraging children to engage with a story. Reading a story with your child also strengthens the parent-child bond, Saffold said.

Ultimately, the goal of the mural project is to create accessible learning spaces, especially for children ages 5 and under.

Saffold said this age group represents a "critical window for development" and is an important time to prepare children for success in kindergarten and beyond.

Four of the murals will be near MPS schools.

According to the 2018-2019 MPS District Report Card, more than 57% of economically disadvantaged MPS students achieved below basic proficiency in English language arts.

Statistics like these are why, when Office of Early Childhood Initiatives director Dea Wright began working with MCTS to decide on locations for the murals, she prioritized under-resourced ZIP codes where she said children are more likely to have a smaller vocabulary and fewer reading skills when entering kindergarten.

Wright cited the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, who found that for every dollar invested in quality early childhood education programs, taxpayers save up to $16.

Heckman's research showed that children who receive early childhood education opportunities are more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to become involved in the juvenile justice system or need special education services.

However, children do not need to be enrolled in a top-notch daycare program to reap these benefits. Simple activities like singing, talking and reading with a young child can make a big difference, Wright said.

Creating 'Mighty Small Moments'

OECI opened with Wright as director in 2018. Soon after, she started the Mighty Small Moment campaign, which includes the mural project. 

Mighty Small Moments advocates for the importance of talking, reading, singing and playing with children ages three and under.

Studies show these activities increase a child's vocabulary which in turn makes learning to read easier when they enter school. The better a student reads early on in school, the more likely they are to graduate from high school.

According to the OECI website, "even short bursts of brain-boosting interactions can make a big difference."

This is why Mighty Small Moments urges parents to take advantage of small, everyday moments — like waiting in line, doing laundry or walking to the bus stop — and turn them into opportunities to engage with their children.

"We have to imagine our city splattered with things where parents can be their child's first teacher," Wright said.

In September 2019, OECI opened Milwaukee's first "Read, Play and Learn" public early learning space at Riverworks Coin Laundry on Holton Street. 

The space offers various levels of books and literacy materials, allowing parents and caregivers to read with their children while doing laundry. It was created in partnership with the LaundryCares Foundation — a nonprofit dedicated to promoting early learning at laundromats — and Too Small to Fail, the early childhood initiative of the Clinton Foundation. 

Tratavia Hardmon, a mother of four and a member of the OECI Family Advisory Board, said in a Common Council meeting last week that she appreciates that her children are able to play and learn while she does laundry.

“A lot of families are busy like myself, so we don’t get a lot of one-on-one time where we can sit down and talk (to our children) and interact with them," Hardmon said. "I think Mighty Small Moments creates those moments for families like mine.” 

Following the success of the laundromat space, OECI introduced similar educational waiting spaces to the Keenan Health Center, the Marcia Coggs Center, the Vel R. Phillips Youth and Family Justice Center, and other WIC clinics and community spaces.

Wright said patrons and employees of many of these locations report that children have been better behaved and less disruptive since the introduction of the educational spaces.

"(Without the educational spaces), I've seen children at the DMV literally crawling under chairs and playing chase. Other people get annoyed, and it's not safe," Wright said. "If children are going to be in these spaces ... you have to have something to engage them."

Although some of the educational spaces are still being reassembled after being removed to comply with pandemic restrictions, Mueller — the creative director of the mural project — said, including the bus shelter murals, there are now 33 interactive public learning spaces located throughout the city.

Of course, Wright thinks there can never be enough of these spaces.

"I think parents have to see these until they're like 'Ugh, everywhere I go someone's telling me to talk, read, share, love,'" she said. "Then, they won't have to think twice, it just becomes second nature."


https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/local/milwaukee/2022/07/07/milwaukee-bus-shelter-murals-promote-literacy-and-parental-involvement/7756846001/


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