Education Summit highlights role of early childhood development (The High Point Enterprise, February 5, 2016)

By Cinde Ingram, Enterprise Staff Writer

Getting every child ready to succeed in school was the common goal that brought together more than 400 Guilford County parents and professionals Thursday at the Koury Convention Center.

At the Get Ready Guilford Early Childhood Summit, participants agreed to take on a 100-day challenge to work on ways to improve the futures of Guilford County’s youngest children.

Education represents the pathway out of poverty for children, but that promise is null and void for some children who start so far behind that they will never catch up, said Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading and senior vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “There is a significant and growing number of children who have fallen beneath the reach of schools.”

He asked whether it’s any surprise so many juveniles and adults in the criminal justice system can’t read.

“When we teach a kid to read, they become an ally,” Smith said. “They become an advocate of their own future.”

Healthy childhood development starts with good prenatal care, which many lower-income families do not receive. The right side of the infant brain controls emotions and develops faster than the left, said keynote speaker Kate Gallagher, clinical associate professor with the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. Babies cry in response to negative emotions and uncomfortable stresses, including pain and hunger. Thinking skills are impaired, and babies don’t learn as well when they have more negative than positive exchanges, which prompt smiles rather than crying.

“Nature has prepared babies to help you support their brain development,” Gallagher said. “People say children don’t come with instructions, but actually they sort of do. Knowing you are safe is the single most important human need.”

A healthy child not only is physically healthy, but emotionally fit, has warm and productive relationships, communicates effectively, solves problems, and explores with curiosity, attentiveness and persistence. In today’s society, more supports are needed to build a healthy child, Gallagher said. “Families are the core,” she said, “and we can never forget that.”

In Guilford County, 230 families shared their experiences and concerns with Ready for School, Ready for Life since last June. Some of their photographs, comments and stories were shared Thursday through exhibits that helped parents learn more about what is working and what gets in the way of preparing children for kindergarten.

“There’s a role for everyone in our community to make sure children are on the pathway, that we’re building supportive and supported families, and to build a more responsive and innovative early childhood system,” said Mary Herbenick, executive director of Ready for School, Ready for Life.

“We want every child to enter kindergarten ready to succeed,” Herbenick said. “There is a strong commitment in this community to make this happen. This commitment has been decades in the making, and we have a lot of good programs to build upon.”

Having each child enter kindergarten ready to succeed was the number one concern of 350 families who were asked, she added.

The First 2,000 Days Shapes a Child’s Future (from The High Point Enterprise, Sunday, January 31, 2016)

It goes so fast.

It’s the refrain repeated each year as families send their children off into the world and through the doors of their kindergarten classrooms. And it’s true. There are 2,000 days from the time a baby is born until he or she enters kindergarten. And what happens during those first 2,000 days before a child enters school matters.

According to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, the development of brain architecture during a child’s earliest years forms the building blocks for all future learning, health and behavior. In other words, brains are built, not born, and the first building blocks matter the most. As any feat of construction, a weak foundation can lead to structural problems later on. Experiences during the first 2,000 days either weaken or strengthen this foundation, and the effects can last a lifetime.

Why does early childhood matter to people who don’t have young children living with them? Why should elected officials, business leaders, doctors, teachers, law enforcement officials and citizens of High Point care about this issue?

On an average day, 25 children are born in Guilford County. The experiences that these children have during the first 2,000 days will shape their future  — and ours. Research shows that children who have high-quality experiences during this time are more likely to read on grade level, graduate from high school, earn higher salaries, contribute more in taxes, and be healthier throughout their lives. They are also five times less likely to become chronic criminal offenders than peers who don’t have high-quality experiences.

According to a 2015 study conducted by Schoolhouse Partners, one in three children entering kindergarten in Guilford County is not on target for reading on grade level by third grade. One in five — almost 1,000 kindergarteners each year — requires intensive remediation to catch up to their peers.

It’s time to change the course for our children and for our community. Ready for School, Ready for Life is a collaborative effort in Guilford County with an ambitious goal: To engage the entire community to help make sure each child enters kindergarten ready for what’s ahead.

Last summer, the Ready for School, Ready for Life team held family meetings with more than 230 residents of High Point, Greensboro and other parts of the county to learn what’s working and not working when it comes to raising young children. The groups reflected the diversity of our community, and included voices from all walks of life.

What did we learn? Regardless of race, ethnicity or ZIP code, families share the same dreams for their children. They want children to have good health, a safe place to grow up, a top-notch education, financial stability and for children to have the ability to give back to the community later on.

At the Get Ready Guilford Early Childhood Summit on Feb. 4, we’ll share an actionable pathway for improvement based on research — not speculation — to prepare each child for school and for a productive, healthy life. It’s a pathway designed to transform the early childhood system to make it more innovative and responsive to the needs of families today.

At the Summit, hundreds of community members representing many sectors will participate in 100-Day Challenge projects to jump start progress on specific parts of the pathway. On May 24, teams will gather again to share their progress and to continue building momentum. You can learn more about this work and follow our progress at

Making wise investments of time, talent and dollars in our youngest learners makes sense. According to Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, every dollar invested in early childhood education produces 7-10 percent return each year in better health, education and social outcomes.

Our community has also recognized the importance of investing in children and in building a transformative early childhood system. High Point Community Foundation and The Foundation for a Healthy High Point, among other key foundations, have made significant investments in this systems change work.

It’s an exciting time to be in Guilford County and everyone has a role to play in creating change. Together, We can positively impact our youngest children and empower their families so that each child can succeed.

Twenty five children will be born in our county today and more tomorrow. There’s no time to waste.

Barbara Frye is vice president of Children’s Initiatives at United Way of Greater High Point. She is a Board member of the Guilford County Partnership for Children and a Steering Committee member for Ready for School, Ready for Life.

Mary Herbenick is executive director of Ready for School, Ready for Life.

Strengthening Greensboro by Investing in Young Children

It is clear that the best use of our resources to strengthen Greensboro’s position is to invest in children birth to five so they arrive at school ready to learn. Being prepared to learn is essential for children to have the best chance to live productive and independent lives. Children who learn from the beginning of their lives can grow to be contributing members of a community and that saves social service dollars and criminal justice dollars.  Science shows the early years are the most robust, yet most vulnerable years of life. If you start behind in school, you stay behind. The Cemala Foundation is partnering with others in Guilford County to change the system of care for our youngest children to give them the best chance for life-long success.

Susan Schwartz
Executive Director, The Cemala Foundation

Our kids deserve the best possible start in life

What would it look like if all of us worked together to ensure the best education, health and economic outcomes for Guilford County? What results would we achieve if we support young children and their families to ensure that every child enters kindergarten safe, healthy and ready to learn?

We’re about to find out. Ready for School, Ready for Life is a community-led effort to create a transformational system that promotes early child development from birth through age eight. The process builds on our community’s strengths and addresses challenges by focusing on one thing — driving better outcomes for children and their families.

As parents and in our various community roles, we’ve seen firsthand how the earliest years shape the growth, development, and success of children. Brain research reinforces what many of us know intuitively — that early childhood experiences from birth through age eight build the foundation for all the years that follow. This is the time when the brain develops most rapidly and when important connections are made that will impact a child’s cognitive, social and emotional skills for the rest of his or her life.

It’s critical that every child in Guilford County has the best possible start in life. Research shows that children who have high-quality experiences when they’re young are more likely to read on grade level, graduate from high school, stay healthier throughout their lives, get higher paying jobs and contribute more toward the costs of important public services. When children have a great start, the whole community wins.

Through Ready for School, Ready for Life, parents, caregivers, early childhood professionals, school system representatives, service providers, medical professionals, business leaders and nonprofit and government employees will join together to forge a new vision for early childhood. Together, they’ll identify what is working well, what’s not working, and what needs to change to create better outcomes for young children and their families.

Every issue is on the table, and every voice will be at the table.

During the next few months, we will listen to parents and caregivers from every part of Guilford County. Family Meetings will be held at convenient times and places to remove barriers to participation. Parent Advisory Committees will hold our community accountable. These are the first steps toward building a community-wide vision, which will be unveiled by the end of 2015.

Guilford County has unprecedented opportunities before us, including a potential partnership with Say Yes to Education that would give every Guilford County Schools (GCS) graduate the chance to go to college or get post-secondary education. As a community, we have the chance to invest in the Say Yes to Education initiative — and we should. To make the most of this opportunity and to leverage our community’s resources to have greatest impact, we also need to invest more in infants and very young children than we do today.

This means making sure every woman gets pre-natal care to increase the chances of a healthy pregnancy and delivery. It means connecting new parents with the credible information and resources to give newborns the best possible start. It’s about helping families develop strong relationships with medical caregivers who can serve as partners and trusted advisors. It’s making sure families have access to affordable, high-quality early childhood education programs and experiences. It’s about equipping parents with the knowledge, skills and confidence to help their children grow and thrive from birth into adulthood.

We’ve all experienced moments when real transformation is possible. For our county, this is that moment. We hope you’ll join us in seizing it by supporting Ready for School, Ready for Life and our local Say Yes to Education efforts.

To learn more about Ready for School, Ready for Life, visit

Terry Akin is Chief Executive Officer of Cone Health System and Co-Chair of Ready for School, Ready for Life.

Alan Duncan is an Attorney at Van Laningham and Duncan PLLC and the Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Education.

Published in the News & Record on April 12, 2015)


Early childhood initiative: The future is in the beginning

One of the best parts of my job is talking with business leaders about how we can work together to drive the Triad’s economy forward. Many of us have collaborated on initiatives to attract new businesses, leverage the assets of our diverse community, retain the best talent, and make investments that will drive innovation.

With those goals in mind, a group of business, nonprofit and foundation leaders are working together on an initiative to boost our community’s long-term economic outlook. It will help build the critical thinking and “soft skills” needed in our future workforce. It increases the tax base and helps drive down crime. And, it will help prepare students for success should Guilford County be selected the next Say Yes to Education Community. Best of all, it leverages dollars that are already at work in our community.

How’s that for strong ROI?

Ready for School, Ready for Life is a community-led effort that will transform the early childhood system in Guilford County. Parents, caregivers, early childhood professionals, service providers, business leaders, nonprofits and government agencies will join together to forge a new vision for early childhood. Together, they’ll identify what is working well, what’s not working, and what needs to change to create better outcomes for young children and their families.

Think of it as strategic planning for how our community will deliver a high-quality early childhood experience to each of our estimated 50,000+ “customers” — children under age eight — who live in our county at any one time.

Why should business leaders care about this? The short answer is that we can’t afford to leave any stone unturned when it comes to developing our future workforce. In a recent survey, half of North Carolina employers reported deficiencies in critical thinking and problem-solving abilities among employees, and 60% reported gaps in communication skills. If we are to thrive in the future, we need to make the right investments now.

Like most things, it makes sense to start at the beginning. Research shows that the brain develops most quickly between birth and age eight, and that what a child experiences during this critical time builds the foundation for the rest of his or her life. Investments made early on can reduce the need for remediation later, when “fixes” are more difficult and expensive.

Employers and employees care deeply about this issue. In many cases, a year of childcare costs more than annual tuition at an in-state college or university. Every day, qualified people drop out of our local workforce due to a lack of affordable, high-quality childcare.

Ready for School, Ready for Life will help us focus on what works and align our community’s resources. This means making sure every woman has access to pre-natal care to increase the chances of a healthy pregnancy and delivery. It means providing post-natal care so babies and families have the best possible start. It’s about helping families develop strong relationships with medical caregivers who can serve as partners and trusted advisors. It’s about attracting the best people to work with our youngest children. It’s about investing in parents so that they have the knowledge, skills and confidence to help children grow and thrive.

During the next few months, we will seek out perspectives of people from every part of Guilford County through Family Meetings. Parent Advisory Committees will be established to hold us accountable, and the feedback gathered will be used during a community-wide visioning session next fall. We expect to unveil the new vision by the end of 2015, with visible wins at every step.

We all know that large-scale transformation is never easy. However, we have much to gain from this endeavor and much to lose if we let this opportunity pass us by.

By Terry Akin, Chief Executive Officer, Cone Health System and Co-Chair of Ready for School, Ready for Life (published in Triad Business Journal, April 10, 2015)