City of Birmingham

Birmingham Partnering With Bloomberg Philanthropies on Early Childhood Learning Program

Birmingham Talks

Birmingham in October will be launching an early childhood program designed to increase interactive talk with children as a way to foster early brain development.

The Birmingham Talks program will serve 2,500 children, birth to 3 years old, across Jefferson County over the next three years.

The city of Birmingham is among five cities selected to replicate the Providence Talks program, which is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies through its What Works Cities initiative. The other four cities that are replicating Providence Talks are: Detroit; Hartford, Connecticut; Louisville, Kentucky; and Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Combined with local investments, the support provided across five cities totals nearly $12 million over three years. Additionally, Birmingham Talks is in conversations with other national and local funders in an attempt to provide the program to more children.

The Providence Talks program involves a specialized coaching curriculum and progress reports captured by a word pedometer, which counts the number of words spoken in a child’s presence, according to a statement released by Bloomberg and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office.

“Research shows that for optimal brain development, children need to hear 21,000 words daily,” Ruth Ann Moss, a Teach For America alum who is leading Birmingham Talks, said in the statement. “Our program helps parents and teachers reach that daily goal by developing new talking behaviors while receiving personalized feedback reports after each coaching session.”

Birmingham Talks will implement the combination of coaching curriculum and conversational tracking in homes and at day cares. The work is in partnership with Nurse-Family Partnership-of Central Alabama and the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity. Both will work with evaluators at the University of Alabama at Birmingham to evaluate the effectiveness of the technology/curriculum combination.

Ambitious Beginnings

Birmingham Talks was incubated by The Overton Project, founded by Birmingham’s Jared Weinstein to bring evidence-based national programs to the city. The project also has fostered Venture for America, Breakthrough Collaborative and Microsoft Teals, among others.

Two years ago, Overton homed in on early childhood education as an important component in lifetime literacy.

“We know that the words children hear during their formative years profoundly impact healthy brain development and their life trajectories. And, we know that for children living in poverty, this early investment is particularly vital. But, we didn’t know how to empower parents and teachers, the adults that spend the most time with children, to drive better outcomes for their kids” said Liya Shuster-Bier, managing director of Overton.

Overton learned of the Providence Talks program, which had won the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge, a competition for cities with ideas that address urgent challenges. For a year, Overton worked in partnership with the Birmingham Mayor’s Office to design Birmingham Talks.

“We know that education is essential in preparing students to boost college completion and workforce readiness starts at birth,” said Mayor Randall Woodfin. “We are eager to partner with Bloomberg Philanthropies, What Works Cities and Birmingham Talks to help our children succeed in kindergarten and beyond.”

Bloomberg Philanthropies is giving Birmingham Talks a three-year grant and donations of technology and software, including talk pedometer devices, software and other tools required.

For more information on Birmingham Talks visit or email .