Smithsonian and D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative Team Up To Boost Vocabulary Skills of Preschool Children in Washington

Grant From PNC Foundation Launches Community Program
December 1, 2015
News Release

Prekindergarten children and their families from the Kenilworth-Parkside community in northeast Washington, D.C., will have new opportunities to participate in vocabulary-based family-literacy workshops supported by a two-year, $1 million grant from the PNC Foundation. The Smithsonian and D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative will develop and deliver monthly “Word Expeditions” workshops at the Neval Thomas Elementary School in northeast, four Smithsonian museums, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Smithsonian Associates’ Discovery Theater.

The Word Expeditions initiative will be announced Wednesday, Dec. 2, at the Smithsonian Castle at 9 a.m. with a vocabulary-based educational activity for preschool children from the D.C. Promise Neighborhood.

The program’s goal is to improve early language skills of underserved children under the age of 5 in the Kenilworth-Parkside community. A well-known study (Hart and Risley, 2003) revealed a discrepancy between vocabulary development in children growing up in wealthy and lower-income households, resulting in a 30-million-word gap. Early language skills and a larger vocabulary have been directly linked to school readiness and educational success later in life. The goal of the program is to work with low- and moderate-income families to expose their young children to more words beginning at birth.

The PNC Foundation grant will support monthly vocabulary-based workshops for children and their families, developed by the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, Friends of the National Zoo and museum education staff, at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Zoo and Smithsonian Associates’ Discovery Theater. Workshops will also take place at the Neval Thomas Elementary School. Funding will provide transportation to and from the community and museum-based workshops, as well as meals for the children and their families.

The Word Expeditions program will help parents and caregivers build their children’s vocabularies. The Smithsonian and D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative will provide free toolkits, containing books and educational activities, developed for families to engage in learning at home. The play-based tools, developed by D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative as part of its “Take and Play” curriculum, align with the D.C. Common Core Early Learning standards and help parents prepare their children for kindergarten. In addition, there will be support workshops for parents, programming at free Smithsonian festivals and family days in the community, and a self-guided activity map that encourages participation and additional Smithsonian museum visits. 

“Education is at the core of the Smithsonian’s mission, and this commitment extends to the youngest learners,” said Claudine Brown, the Smithsonian’s Assistant Secretary for Education and Access. “With the support of the PNC Foundation, we will be able to narrow the language gap for these children and create new opportunities for their families to engage with Smithsonian museums and its early education programs.”

“Words unlock success for children,” said Michael N. Harreld, regional president, PNC Bank.  “The more words they are introduced to before starting kindergarten, the more success they often achieve. This new collaboration will bring together skilled, respected partners, their expert staff and the preschoolers and their families. It will build a strong vocabulary foundation to set these students up for success in school and in life.”

“We look forward to this new partnership with the Smithsonian Institution supported by the PNC Foundation,” said Mary Brown, D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative’s executive director. “It will expand our ability to ensure that our children receive access to high-quality early education from birth, and our families are equipped with knowledge, tools and resources to be their children’s first and best teachers.”

Smithsonian Institution

Since its founding in 1846, the Smithsonian Institution has been committed to inspiring generations through knowledge and discovery. The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex, consisting of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities. There are 6,400 Smithsonian employees and 5,400 volunteers. There were 28 million visits to the Smithsonian in 2014. The total number of objects, works of art and specimens at the Smithsonian is estimated at nearly 138 million, including more than 127 million specimens and artifacts at the National Museum of Natural History.

PNC Foundation

The PNC Foundation, which receives its principal funding from The PNC Financial Services Group,, actively supports organizations that provide services for the benefit of communities in which it has a significant presence. The foundation focuses its philanthropic mission on early childhood education and community and economic development, which includes the arts and culture. Through Grow Up Great, its signature cause that began in 2004, PNC has created a $350 million, multiyear initiative to help prepare children from birth to age 5 for success in school and life.

D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative

D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) is the hub of a comprehensive effort to end intergenerational poverty in the Kenilworth-Parkside community in northeast Washington, D.C. (Ward 7). It is one of 12 Promise Neighborhoods throughout the nation supported by the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that children complete their education and become participants in the 21st-century economy.

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