Recently, more than 100 community and staff members came together to learn more about the latest brain science. They heard from experts how children learn and the powerful benefits of investing in early learning. They discussed the importance of sharing information and identifying actions we can take together to build a community that acknowledges, nurtures and benefits from the capabilities of its youngest citizens.
Why talk about early learning? Brain research tells us 90 percent of a child’s brain develops BEFORE that child turns 5 years old – the legal age for beginning kindergarten. In fact, more than 1 million new neural connections form every second in the first few years of our life. Our K-12 students will be most successful when the entire community, its families, agencies, businesses and resources, partner to embrace early learning opportunities for each student.
Who was part of the conversation? District staff were key in the discussions, and the district’s early learning story of success was a highlight of the day. Other regional and national professionals established the foundational importance of early learning for all students – including the enormous economic value early learning provides to local economies. Working together, staff and these professionals facilitated early learning discussions including some “next step” possibilities for the district.
What did we learn?
More than 4 out of 10 (44.5 percent) kindergarten students in our district enter “kindergarten ready.” This is a huge affirmation of district work launched five years ago. We started off small, working with a handful of preschool providers in our district. Today we have dozens more such partners and routinely cross train with preschool and district staff. Can you imagine what we could do if EACH student were kindergarten ready, and remediation was no longer necessary?
Family partners are key, and once involved, families are enthusiastically committed to the learning wellbeing of their children. Families are partners!
High quality early learning benefits students first and communities later. Children who take part in such early learning are more likely to graduate from high school. As adults, they are more likely to earn a home and have higher wages. They are less likely to draw on social services.
The point of this work is? We must have adequate facilities and programs for more students. That “adequacy” will only come with community support and inclusion.
Students are coming to us with varying degrees of before-kindergarten experiences and opportunities – at the same time they are coming to us at all grades with a plethora of cultural and societal experiences. School funding – even with a perfect implementation of the McCleary Decision – will always require resources greater than what is available. We can enrich our resources with partners who understand how they benefit and how they can play a role in enhancing schools and supporting each student’s learning.
I am personally and professional grateful to and impressed by those who have organized and attended the early learning symposium. Their work and engagement is the foundation for our district’s past and future success and continuous improvement.
Dr. Gary Cohn