How Investing in Youth Curbs Poverty: Experts agree that ending poverty starts with successful brain development in infants and toddlers.

By Kris Perry, Executive Director, First Five Years Fund (Posted from Media Planet; Education and Career News)

This election season, we are hearing from local, state and federal candidates about the need to expand opportunity or address poverty in this country in a meaningful way. It’s a complex issue that will require complex solutions.

But the one thing we know for sure is that our elected officials should all begin with the baby steps of making sure low-income children have access to quality early childhood education, from birth to age 5. These early learning experiences prepare children for school by forming the foundational skills and knowledge necessary to be successful in the classroom and beyond.

Busy little brains

The science is clear and compelling. Motor skills, literacy and numeracy, analyzing, vocabulary and speech are all made possible through new connections between neurons in the brain. Seven-hundred of these connections are formed every second in the first three years of life, through interaction with parents and caregivers. Unfortunately, children living in poverty are least likely to have exposure to these experiences and early learning. Every parent wants to do right by their child, but not every parent has the time, resources or tools without some help and guidance.

Without these opportunities, children begin school well behind their peers, and as the evidence shows, many kids never catch up. Children from more affluent families are, on average, exposed to 30 million more words than children from low-income families. And this disparity goes beyond words to gaps in critical social and emotional skills such as attentiveness, impulse control, persistence and teamwork—all the skills necessary for effective, lifelong learning.

Breaking the cycle

Therefore, if we want to set our most vulnerable children on the path to break the cycle of poverty, we must first ensure that each child has the opportunity to arrive at kindergarten with the foundational skills they need to succeed—through programs such as home visiting, high quality child care and development and prekindergarten.

When children participate in high quality programs there are gains in achievement and decreases in behavior problems, grade repetition and special education, which are followed by increases in high school graduation rates, increased earnings, decreased crime and better health outcomes. By some estimations, we see a 26 percent increase in adult earnings and the ability to prevent chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

The political front

As candidates for office spell out their plans to support children and families, reduce poverty and create opportunity, investing in quality early childhood education should be a top policy priority. The good news is, investing in early childhood is emerging as the one bipartisan issue in a deeply polarized society. Governors from red and blue states alike are making significant investments in early learning. The U.S. Congress has found bipartisan agreement on increasing funding for existing programs and creating new ones. In fact, 75 percent of voters say we should invest more—or equally—in early education over college. But more needs to be done.

Anyone who wants to fight poverty can walk that talk by making sure low-income children have access high-quality early childhood education. Baby steps are giant steps toward shared prosperity.

Big Progress, Short Timeframe: 100-Day Challenge Team Update

On February 4, 2016, more than 200 participants in the Get Ready Guilford Early Childhood Summit committed to make positive change for young children and families in Guilford County by joining a 100-Day Challenge Team. In total, sixteen teams launched — each focusing on a particular part of the community-built vision (PDF) designed to make sure more children in Guilford County enter kindergarten prepared for what’s ahead.

The Challenge

Teams are focused on many different areas aligned with the vision. All teams are starting by examining best practices related to their particular area to see what’s working well in other communities in the U.S. and around the world. On May 24 — the end of the 100-Day Challenge — each team will deliver their findings, “product” and recommendations at a community celebration.

Here are some of the questions the teams are exploring and answering:

  • Parenting Education. Parents and caregivers say that they need parenting education in order to get children ready for kindergarten. What are the current assets and existing gaps in parenting education resources within Guilford County? Who receives parenting education services — and who doesn’t? Where are services delivered and how often? What needs to be put in place to ensure more parents get guidance to help their child(ren) be prepared?
  • Baby Friendly Community. Pediatricians recommend that, whenever possible, new mothers breastfeed their babies until age one. Studies show significant, positive health benefits for babies and for mothers who breastfeed for at least six months. Today, 33% of mothers in Guilford County breastfeed for at least six months. Since breastfeeding moms need support for this important role, what would it take for Guilford County to become a breastfeeding-friendly community?
  • Transition to Kindergarten. Families report that the transition to kindergarten is difficult for them and for their children. Teachers agree. What can we do to make the transition from PreK to kindergarten easier for children, their families, teachers and administrators?  What could we do differently in order to get better results?
  • Developmental Screenings. Developmental screenings can be a powerful tool to identify developmental delays early in a child’s life. What developmental screenings are children receiving in Guilford County today? Where are those screenings given? How are results used? Are there common tools used across settings, i.e. pediatrician offices, childcare settings, other programs, etc.? To which services are families referred? What needs to be put in place so that developmental issues are picked up earlier in a child’s life to improve his/her outcomes?
  • Effective Application and Referral System. More effective sharing of information across agencies and organizations can help families of young children get what they need more efficiently and effectively. How can we improve the way referrals are made and received with the goal of helping families access and use services that will help their children prepare for kindergarten?
  • Early Literacy. Pediatricians recommend reading to babies starting at birth. What does a community look like that encourages reading from the earliest ages? What assets do we have to support this? Where are the gaps? Where are services provided and how often are they provided to families? What are the barriers families face?
  • Safe and Stable Homes. Having a safe and stable home — a place where young children can thrive — is a priority for families. It’s a complex issue, but a 100-Day Challenge Team is exploring how increasing families’ financial literacy can help them stabilize their housing situations.
  • Trauma Informed Community. We understand more than ever before about the impact of trauma on children and adults. In fact, people who experience toxic stress are more likely to have heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses throughout their lives. What does a Guilford County that focuses on providing trauma informed care look like? What is the road map for getting there? And how might we get started?
  • Mindset Shifts. The vast majority of brain development happens during the first 2,000 days of life (up to age five). What is the current mindset about young children in Guilford County? How much does our community know today about the importance of the earliest years and how critical the first give years of life are to everything that happens later in life? How might we build additional, collective support for focusing on the first five years?
  • Social-Emotional Health. The health and well-being of child care professionals have a big effect on the children in their care. What are the root causes of provider stress? How might we proactively address those root causes, while building a supportive community?
  • Assets and Gaps in Childcare. Approximately 1/3 of children in Guilford County under the age of five are in licensed childcare settings, and 1/3 are at home with family members receiving high-quality care. However, 1/3 are not getting what they need in order to be ready for kindergarten. What are the assets and gaps in our childcare system and how might we reach more families who would benefit from having their children in high-quality care settings? What barriers–including costs and wages–need to be addressed?
  • Families as Change Agents. Families are their children’s first teacher and can also be powerful change agents in communities. What would it take for more families with young children to become comfortable serving as advocates for their child and change agents within Guilford County?

Other teams are exploring how they can build literacy reach environments within the neighborhoods in which they work, how a new effort might encourage more free play among young children while also spreading the word about kindergarten readiness with families, and how to bring the community together to build awareness around preventing child abuse and neglect.

We’re so excited about the great work of these teams and how they’re working together to drive results. Stay tuned for more updates in the coming weeks!

Taking Aim at PreK Learning: Local advocates are working to find ways to provide quality, affordable childcare (News & Record, February 22, 2016)

BY MARQUITA BROWN

Marquita.brown@greensboro.com

When recent winter storms led to school closings and icy roads, Rhonda Stewart of Greensboro had no choice but to take off from work without pay and stay home to care for her toddler, Madison.

Such emergency care isn’t the only child care concern facing the young working mother.

Stewart, 23, worries about being able to keep Madison in affordable, quality care that will prepare her for kindergarten. Madison attends Head Start, which ends about 2 p.m., several hours before Stewart typically leaves work. Stewart also takes classes at Guilford Technical Community College.

A report recently released by the local coalition Ready for School, Ready for Life underscores many local families’ struggles with similar concerns. The coalition aims to transform Guilford County’s early childhood development system.

A growing amount of research supports the importance of the lessons and skills children learn before age 5, when the brain grows the fastest.

The early education and the quality of care children receive impacts their long-term academic success. Researchers tie the early education and development to a child’s chances of graduating high school, later upward mobility and closing achievement gaps.

But for some families, issues such as high costs, lack of transportation, work schedules or lack of information block their access to quality early education and care. They find viable solutions difficult to come by.

Another issue is low pay for teachers at child care centers. Despite research supporting the importance of their work, those teachers typically get paid little more than minimum wage—about $10 an hour. Those salary levels have not significantly increased in about 25 years even though child care costs have doubled.

The challenges are not unique to Guilford County.

Issues of access and affordability of high quality child care exist across the country. Nationally, fewer than 30 percent of 4-year-olds are in high quality care, according to a White House report.

In Guilford County, though, local business leaders, educators, parents, and advocates are working on ways to start chipping away at barriers to early education.

They had conversations earlier this month at a conference sponsored by Ready for School, Ready for Life. The groups plan to reconvene in May to talk about the “small wins” or early results from the efforts they began in the 100 days after the conference.

Those efforts will be concrete, tangible and implementable, said Mary Herbenick, executive director of Ready for School, Ready for Life and author of the report. Those initial successes will help more people want to get involved, she said.

“Our community agrees that we want each child to start school on the best possible track,” Herbenick said. There are long-term costs for the community and for the country as a whole when that doesn’t happen, she said.

For the Ready for School report, more than 300 local residents talked about their dreams for their children, as well as what does and doesn’t work related to raising children younger than 5 in Guilford County. Stewart was one of those residents.

The Ready for School research doesn’t just focus on child care. It notes other developmental challenges local children and their families experience, such as poverty, lack of transportation, unstable housing and insufficient health care.

Children who start kindergarten behind their peers tend to struggle to catch up.

Most students starting kindergarten in Guilford County Schools—between 50 and 60 percent—show reading readiness at the start of that firs year, said Whitney Oakley, executive director of preK-5 curriculum for the school system.

But about 1 in 5 Guilford kindergarteners—about 1,000 children—requires remediation, according to the Ready for School report.

Students undergo assessments to gauge basic skills of text reading and comprehension, understanding parts of a book and that they read from left to right.

Some children start school with exposure to thousands more words than their peers, Oakley said. The difference is monumental compared to those who may not start school with the same level of skills, she said.

Children who “have the opportunity to attend prekindergarten and preschool programs are better equipped, both socially and academically, when they come to school in kindergarten,” Oakley said. “We want to expand on that opportunity.”

The partnership between Guilford County and Say Yes to Education could offer an opportunity to better connect those early education programs to the K-12 public school system.

When students are lacking skills, when they start school behind, it’s more difficult to catch them up. Prevention is easier than intervention.

Local advocates argue the benefits of quality early education and care far outweigh the costs. Having a better educated work force helps with attracting businesses and economic viability.

But the cost of child care remains a significant issue for families.

Quality child care can cost more than $600 a month, depending on the child’s age, or about $7,200 a year—more than tuition and fees at most colleges in the UNC system. Care for infants and toddlers can cost about $900 a month, according to the report.

“If you can afford to pay the tuition of high quality care, you have some choices,” said Nicole McCaskill, an early care and education professional.

Many parents don’t. of an estimated 37,562 children younger than 5 in Guilford County, 28 percent of them life in poverty, according to the Ready for School report.

Receiving a quality early education and care should be viewed as a right just like with K-12 public schools, McCaskill said

“What’s the difference between that 4-year-old and 5-year-old besides a birthday?” she asked. “They still need a quality education.”

There are some options for families to get assistance with child care costs, but the need is greater than the available resources.

In North Carolina, 956 children younger than 5 are on the wait list for child care subsidies, the Ready for School report stated. More than 80 percent are younger than 3.

Stewart is on a couple of wait lists for help with child care costs. She had been on one of those lists for almost a year only to learn in January that she was removed and would have to be added back and wait all over again.

She recently started working a job where she and other employees have rotating shifts. Stewart has had to switch shifts with other employees in order to pick Madison up from Head Start, something she said she can’t continue to do. Stewart said she wants stable hours and to be able to spend more time with Madison when the girl is not in school. Ideally, Stewart said, she would be able to get a nanny or someone to pick up her daughter from Head Start and care for her until she or Madison’s father gets off work.

When she researched the costs, Stewart found nannies charge about $10 an hour—just about $1 less than she earns.

Stewart said she doesn’t want to settle for a cheap place where Madison won’t learn. She wants her daughter to be safe. She wants to keep Madison in Head Start, but worries about whether that will continue to be possible.

“I may be in a better situation where I’m not eligible for Head Start again,” Stewart said. “I don’t want that.”

In about four years, when Madison is old enough to start kindergarten, Stewart said she wants her to be ready. She wants her to be comfortable in the school environment and to start having positive learning experiences from Day 1.

“I just want her to be ahead in her class,” she said, “and it starts early.”

Contact Marquita Brown at (336) 373-7002, and follow @mbrownNR on Twitter.

Education Summit: Ready for School, Ready for Life (The Carolina Peacemaker, February 11)

By Yasmine Regester, Staff Writer

A community wide effort to transform the early childhood system in Guilford County is underway.

Ready for School, Ready for Life hosted its first Get Ready Guilford Early Childhood Summit on Thursday, February 4 at the Koury Convention Center, along with more than 400 service providers and advocates for children and families.

Ready for School, Ready for Life is a community initiative developed out of the idea that building a solid education for students in Guilford County that will produce a skilled workforce that can sustain the local economy for years to come.

“This is about getting agencies and organizations in education all working together on the same page,” said Mary Herbenick, executive director of Ready for School, Ready for Life.

Featured speakers for the kickoff event included: Kathleen Gallagher, Ph.D., a scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and clinical associate professor at UNC-Chapel Hill; Ralph Smith, senior vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and managing director for The Campaign for Grade Level reading; and Dr. Pennie Foster-Fishman, professor and senior outreach fellow at Michigan State University and a national systems-change expert.

Dr. Kathleen Gallagher noted that positive early childhood experiences coupled with social, emotional and cognitive development are important towards school readiness.

“A common fact is that brain development comes during the early stages of life, so we cannot deny those positive experiences. We have to start prenatally by making sure babies are healthy and making sure families get what they need, so the children get what they need,” said Gallagher.

The vision for this new initiative is to build a model around what is needed for early childhood development in Guilford County. The group’s steering committee spent the last year collecting data and research from 230 families in Guilford County on what is important to them in the educational system.

Nine families from the focus groups also participated in a Photovoice Project, where they met and shared their experiences of raising children in Guilford County, and to make recommendations to the community. Photos taken by the families for the Photovoice Project were on display at the education summit.

“This was an opportunity to share our life experiences and concerns with a group that understand and supports you,” said Photovoice participant, Tratricia Bovill, who added she was concerned about community safety. “I have to work to provide for my children, but if I’m not around, I’m constantly worrying if they are safe,” she said.

In the afternoon, attendees participated in interactive sessions to design and launch “100-Day Challenges” or plans that will have an impact in the lives of 37,062 children age five and under in Guilford County. The groups will present the results of the challenges in May.

Foster-Fishman was also one of the experts brought in to assist with the development of Guilford County’s Ready for School, Ready for Life initiative. She and Joan Blough, another systems-change expert from Michigan State University, facilitated training to start the 100-Day Challenges.

“We want to make sure we’re getting to the root cause of the problem and not just treating the symptoms,” said Foster-Fishman.

Ready for School, Ready for Life co-chair and vice-president of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, Ed Kitchen, along with Cone Health, The Cemala Foundation, a host of other local foundations helped launch this effort to combine the county’s early childhood development resources last year.

“Health is critical to successful development, especially in the first 2,000 days,” noted Kitchen.

According to Ready for School, Ready for Life, children with high-quality early learning experiences during the first 2,000 days of life, have higher reading and math scores; become more financially self-sufficient; and are five times less likely to be chronic criminal offenders by age 27 than their peers.

Gallagher notes that Ready for School, Ready for Life focuses on all areas of childhood development.

“Guilford has put together a model that can support children for years to come. Guilford has a lot of talent, and bringing it together for such an important cause as this is beautiful,” said Gallagher.

For more information, visit www.GetReadyGuilford.org.

El proyecto listos para la escuela, listos para la vida en el condado Guilford: 2,000 dias para asegurar el futuro exito de su nino (Que Pasa, Febrero 11 – 17)

By Hernando Ramirez-Santos

Brandon de 9 anos y Harold de 4 anos son la vida de Daniela Nava, quien como madre, ha tratado de darles el mejor cuidado en sus primeros anos de vida. Pero ella sabe que hay una gran diferencia en la forma como inicio la crianza de su primer hijo hace 9 anos, como madre primeriza, a la experiencia que ha tenido con su segundo nino.

“Uno no sabe nada como mama primeriza”, afirma Nava, quien hace nueve anos llego embarazada a Greensboro procedente de La Masa, un pueblo del estado de Guerrero en Mexico, a comenzar una nueva vida con su esposo en un pais extrano y sin el conocimiento del idioma ingles.

Como Nava, un elevado numero de madres primerizas, especialmente de las minorias, no tiene a su disposicion acceso a las herramientas basicas que las ayuden desde el embarazo a saber como cuidar de sus hijos para que estos puedan desarrollarse a plenitud en la primera etapa de su vida y esten debidamente preparados para iniciar con exito su educacion escolar.

Pensando en lo diferente que humieran podido ser las cosas con su primer hijo Brandon hace 9 anos, y por todas la dificultades que ha pasado con l debido a sus problemas de salud que han afectado su nivel de aprendizaje en la escuela. Nava accedio a participar en una gran encuesta y un proyecto que lidera la organizacion del condado Greensboro Ready for School, Ready for Life (Listos para la Escuela, Listos para la Vida).

“Y ocomo (inmigrante) mexicana tenia miedo de participar porque uno no sabe que problemas pueda traer”, dijo Navas, pero pensando en Brandon, decidio dejar a un lado el miedo y compartir sus experiencias para ayudar a otras mamas latinas.

“Mi moto fue mi hijo”, aseguro.

Esta coalicion de representantes de la comunidad entre los que se encuentran la Fundacion Cemala, la Fundacion Joseph M. Bryan y Cone Health. Ianzo esta iniciativa el ano pasado con el objetivo de buscar que todos los ninos en el condado Guilford esten realmente preparados para comenzar con exito la escuela.

La importancia de que un nino inici la primaria con las majores bases, tendra un sustancial impacto en el exito que pueda tener en su vida como estudiante y luego como adulto. “Solo hay 2,000 dias desde el momento que el o ella Ilegan al kindergarten y es durante este tiempo que se plantan las bases de todo su futuro aprendizaje”, dijo Susan Schwartz, directora ejecutiva del la Fundacion Cemala.

El pasado jueves 4 de febrero, se celebro en el Centro de Convenciones Koury de Greensboro una Cumbre de la Primera Infancia, con le participacion de mas de 400 personas, representates de entidades privadas, publicas y comunitarias, donde se discutio el estado de la primera infancia en Guilford y las vias practicas quese deberan tomar para el beneficio de los infantes en el condado, desde el periodo prenatal hasta los cinco anos.

Adamas se dieron a conocer los resultados de la encuesta realizada entre 221 familias que tienen ninos menores de ocho anos, para entender que funciona y que no, cuando se esta preparando a los ninos para entrar al kindergarten.

Y el mensaje de Daniela Nava, como madre hispana immigrante, se esta tomando en cuenta para crear un major sistema de desarrollo temprano del infante que se adapte a las necesidades de las familias de hoy. Para que estas tengen un facil acceso a la informacion y los servicios que permitan el sano credimiento de sus ninos.

“Hay un rol para todos en las comunidad para asgurarnos que los ninos estan en el camino correcto, que estamos construyendo familias que reciben y dan apoyo, y para construir un sistema de la primera nfancia mas innovador y positivo”, dijo Mary Herbenick, directora ejecutiva de Ready for School, Ready for Life.

Herbenick aseguro a Que Pasa, gue la inciativa esta consciente de las grandes barreras que enfrenta la comunidad inmigrante hispana en el condado Guilford por el idioma, la falta de estatus migratorio de muchos de ellos y sus capacidades economicas limitadas.

“Nuestro objetivo es ayudar a todas las familias y estamos teniendo en cuenta sus necesidades”, dijo Herbenick.

En la Cumbre se presento la exhibicion Photovoice, un proyecto del cual hizo parte Navas, quien fue escogida junto a otras nueve familias, para contar sus experiencias criando a sus hijos a traves de fotografias y relatos.

Etos relatos son parte fundamental para identificar las necesidades de las familias.

Navas, en una foto que tomo a los dos hijos de una amiga suya, explica qu ella decidio trabajar de 7 p.m. a 7 a.m., porque asi podia estar durante el dia con sus ninos en vez de tenr que dejarlos al cuidado de alguien mas, como un ejemplo de la falta de seguridad y confianza entre la comunidad.

Segun datos suministrados por Reeady for School, Ready for Life, en el condado Guilford viven 37,062 ninos menores de 5 anos. El 28.5 por ciento de estos menores viven en hogares con una econmia por debajo del nivel de pobreza y l 61 por ciento de las familias con ninos menores de 5 anos necesitan servicio de guarderia porque son padres solteros o ambos padres trabajan o estudian.

Pueden encontrar mas informacion sobre la iniciativa Ready for School, Ready for Life en el sitio www.getreadyguilford.org llamando al (336) 274-5437.

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 GetReadyGuilford.org.

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 getreadyguilford.org.

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)