Column: Early childhood education programs pay off – Fredericksburg.com

Posted: Sunday, January 24, 2016 12:00 am

Column: Early childhood education programs pay off

BY MICHAEL N. HARRELD

Fredericksburg.com

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It’s simple. If the first signs of an education gap are evident in the crib instead of the classroom, school reform can’t succeed.

And if we fail to educate our children today, we cannot attract high-quality jobs tomorrow. In a world economy increasingly dependent on knowledge and skills, having the right start will make a difference.

A Dec. 23 Free Lance–Star editorial discussed the tremendous importance of early childhood education and provided context for the Every Student Succeeds Act passed by Congress and signed by President Obama.

Views have changed as to when a child’s schooling should begin. In recent years, we have found that school success and the foundation for adult productivity depend on an introduction to learning during a child’s early life, when 85 percent of brain development occurs.

All children deserve a strong start. But in far too many communities, children in poverty miss out. Without access to high-quality early learning programs, they fall behind. Many never catch up.

Early education can help close the achievement gap between at-risk children and their better-off peers. A study by Hart and Risley in 1995 revealed a discrepancy between vocabulary development in children growing up with at least one parent as a professional versus a lower-income household, 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 is to work with low- and moderate-income families to expose their young children to more words, beginning at birth.

The Fredericksburg-area community should find this especially relevant given that more than 19 percent of its children live below the poverty line, compared with less than 16 percent statewide.

Virginia has embraced early childhood education. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine has been a staunch supporter;d in 2008, as Virginia’s governor, he proposed a plan to make pre-K education more accessible to at-risk preschool children. I was honored to be a member of the committee that worked on that proposal.

For its part, PNC has focused tirelessly since 2004 when we launched our Grow Up Great program, a $350 million, multi-year initiative supporting early childhood education. We have worked with our nonprofit partners to ensure that we make a positive and lasting contribution to the school readiness of children in the Fredericksburg community.

The Friends of the Rappahannock, HUGS at Stafford Junction and Smart Beginnings all have early childhood education programs supported by PNC.

Additionally, PNC brings its mobile planetarium to both Stafford County Schools Head Start and Fredericksburg City Head Start on a regular basis. The planetarium, which shows Sesame Workshop’s “One World, One Sky,” allows hundreds of young children to be exposed to a science-themed learning experience while forging cross-cultural connections.

What is the importance of a child succeeding in school? It’s like asking, what is the value of an adult living an independent life and making a positive contribution to our society? When we establish the right foundation for children’s development, we meet our obligation to provide them with the tools they need to succeed in school and life.

Please join me in asking our elected officials, our community and our business leaders to support investments in early education. Without them, our expressions of hope for the next generation make achieving that success unlikely.

When we allow children to fail, our economy feels the consequences immediately and for generations to come.

Michael N. Harreld is the regional president of PNC Bank—Greater Washington Area.

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Sunday, January 24, 2016 12:00 am.


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