Courtney Hawkins to Serve as Executive Director of Providence Talks
Mayor Jorge Elorza today announced Courtney Hawkins will serve as Executive Director for Providence Talks, which is a first of its kind early childhood intervention designed to close the “thirty million word gap” on a citywide scale and dramatically raise the percentage of children entering kindergarten ready to succeed. Specifically, Providence Talks combines new technology with existing home visitation services to empower parents and caretakers with the tools and coaching necessary to ensure their child enters kindergarten ready to achieve at extraordinary levels.
“We are excited to have Courtney Hawkins on board as she brings the right combination of experience, skills, and smarts to build on the success of the pilot program. I look forward to working with her to take Providence Talks citywide, so more of our children start school ready to learn,” said Mayor Elorza.
A Rhode Island native, Hawkins served as a Senior Vice-President at FEGS Health & Human Services, a New York City based human services agency, where she oversaw programs serving more than 25,000 people annually in the areas of youth development, education, foster care, welfare to work, workforce development and immigration assistance. She brings extensive experience in design and implementation of high quality programs for youth and families and in working with major partners and stakeholders.
Hawkins received her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Columbia University and is a graduate of The University of Rhode Island.
“Providence Talks’ early intervention approach when taken to scale has the potential to be a real difference-maker in improving outcomes for low income children, not only in Providence, but throughout the nation. It is a tremendous opportunity to be able to work on this important, innovative program and an added bonus to be able to do so in my home state,” said Hawkins.
Providence Talks combines new technology, a ‘talk pedometer’ supplied by LENA Foundation, which counts the number of words and conversational interactions children experience throughout the day. Well-trained home visitors use this new technology, along with complementary qualitative measures, to give parents practical tips about how to do more reading and talking to their children, engage their children in more actual conversations, and use the power of positive reinforcement.
This innovative program aims to close the word gap, in which children from low-income families hear many fewer words in the critical early years than children from high-income families. To date the program has completed a pilot and will begin rolling out the program across the City in the Fall.
Providence was the grand prize winner of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ inaugural Mayors Challenge and received $5 million to implement Providence Talks. The Mayors Challenge is an ideas competition that encourages cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life – and that have the potential to spread to other cities.