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Quality early childhood education provides students keys to lifelong success

By Sally Holloway, courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Post Date:09/09/2014

What's more exciting than starting school, especially if you are beginning kindergarten? However, beneath the excitement, is the reality that on the first day of school not all 5-year-olds will have the abilities and social skills they need for success. Some can almost read a story and write their names. Others have not had the opportunity to open their own book or hold their own crayon. Early learning experiences prepare children for school and for future success. At Whatcom Community College, we believe children deserve high-quality early learning experiences so they might succeed in school and into the future.

Providing high-quality preschool for all children is a national, state and local issue. Of 100 Whatcom County kindergarteners beginning school this fall, data indicates that 33 will not meet literacy standards and 65 will not meet math standards. If current trends continue, by third grade 29 of those 100 will not be able to read at grade level. By high school, 26 will not graduate. Nobel laureate James Heckman documents in his book “Giving Kids a Fair Chance” those early investments reap huge benefits: “Early interventions can improve cognitive as well as socio-emotional skills. They promote schooling, reduce crime, foster workforce productivity, and reduce teenage pregnancy.” In Whatcom County only 13 percent of our children are able to attend federally or state-supported preschool programs, Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program. Only about 33 percent of our children are in licensed child care programs while family members work and about 27 percent are able to attend private preschools. Some families make use of parenting education programs. Others have no access to early learning resources.

Access is only half of the challenge. Quality is the other half. The quality of early learning programs determines their effectiveness and the best indicator of quality is the education level of the care provider or teacher. Some cues to quality are: child/adult ratios, credentials of staff caring for children, safety and cleanliness of the environment, appropriate curriculum, appreciation of individuality and diversity. Washington’s Department of Early Learning is now offering a voluntary rating program called Early Achievers based on these quality indicators. Quality indicator scores will be available to families to help them make informed decisions when selecting providers. The Early Achievers program offers incentives and support for those early learning programs working toward improvement and staff development.

WCC has provided leadership to improve early learning programs. For more than 30 years, Whatcom’s Early Childhood Education program has prepared students to become professionals ready to teach children by providing degrees and certificates that include internships in early learning facilities. Whatcom’s program is guided by expert faculty and an advisory committee of local early learning practitioners, employers and agency personnel. Now scholarships are available for early learning staff participating in the Early Achievers program to assist them in earning state credentials and early childhood education degrees. In partnership with the Opportunity Council, WCC houses one of the county’s early childhood education and assistance programs. WCC has also provided parenting education opportunities through countywide cooperative preschools. These programs work closely with school districts to ensure alignment and family involvement in early childhood education.

Over the past three years, Washington state has been building the early learning system capacity with the support of Race to the Top federal funding. We are now in the position to participate in the federal Preschool for All Initiative. This does not mean that all children must attend preschool. It does mean standards of quality and support will be available so that families have more viable choices. The city of Seattle is not waiting for the federal initiative; citizens will vote on funding a citywide initiative this fall.

Whatcom County is also in a good position to expand quality early learning programs. We have worked hard to build a strong foundation. Early childhood education programs from our four institutions of higher education – WCC, Western Washington University, Northwest Indian College and Bellingham Technical College – work closely with the Whatcom Early Learning Alliance. That group brings together school districts, the Opportunity Council, the health department, public libraries, child care programs, the department of early learning, and families to advocate for all young children.

Together as a community we can make sure that all our children start school prepared for success.

About the author: Sally Holloway is Early Childhood Education project director at Whatcom Community College. She has been on faculty at WCC, BTC and WWU; coordinated WCC’s Early Childhood Education program; and provided leadership for Washington’s Early Learning Professional Development Consortium, Early Childhood Teacher Preparation Council, and Whatcom Early Learning Alliance. She currently coordinates statewide the Early Achievers Opportunity Grants, Child Care Subsidy Training, and projects promoting common curriculum and Head Start - higher education linkages.

Read more here.

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