Quality Early Childhood Education: For Our Children’s Future
By: Neslon D. Greene, M. Ed. and Erica S. Lee, MPP\
As a former first grade teacher, I have witnessed firsthand how children immersed in a quality early childhood education programs truly benefited from being enrolled in them. For a child enrolled in such a program, these benefits range from social-emotional development to cognitive development as well as economic independence. In addition to my direct observation, leading experts in the field of education have also concluded that early childhood programs that not only focus on education but also intervention have an enormous impact on our children’s educational experience.
The Harris County Department of Education is a critical resource in our community that offers the Early Head Start program for our children and families. In the most recent school year, it closed 2 centers due to fiscal challenges. In a state where only 14% of our 3 year-olds are enrolled in pre-k or head start (Children’s Defense Fund) and over 25.7% are in poverty, we must find ways to support early childhood education that help our children build a strong foundation. As a candidate seeking to join the Harris County Board of Education, I will prioritize our investment in early childhood education for our communities that desperately need quality early educational options.
Quality early childhood education programs offer a safe, nurturing environment that allows the child an opportunity to interact with other children from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities. One of the more obvious benefits of these programs are that they develop a child’s ability to adapt to new environments as well as interact socially with adults and their peers in an appropriate manner. Early childhood education helps foster a love and appreciation for learning. Also, for many children this is the first time they are away from their parents and siblings for any significant amount of time.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we need look no further than the tragic incident at the daycare run by Jessica Tata to see what can happen when we leave our children in unregulated, poorly supervised environments. Veteran educator and education consultant, Nelson Greene, who has worked with the children two-years old to college-age agrees that social interaction skills, like cognitive skills are developed at the earliest stages of human interaction. As a Disabilities Coordinator for a Head Start Program for the Harris County Department of Education, Mr. Greene often dealt with children who experienced a number of developmental issues that if left unaddressed would surely hinder their ability to function effectively in the educational environment. “It is paramount that we identify and address all developmental concerns as early as possible in an effort to ensure our children reach their full potential” states Mr. Greene
Cognitive skills are another key area of development that is directly tied to student achievement in latter years. Early childhood education programs enhance those skills in a way that the average parent or daycare provider cannot. During my time as a first grade teacher, I noticed a distinct difference in the cognitive development between those children who received early childhood education and those who had not. The children who had attended such programs often had a wider vocabulary and grasped concepts at a faster pace. RAND, a leading nonprofit that helps improve policy and decision making through research and analysis, found “there is increasing recognition that the first few years of a child’s life are a particularly sensitive period in the process of development, laying a foundation in childhood and beyond for cognitive functioning; behavioral, social, and self-regulatory capacities; and physical health.” Their findings are in line with most if not all experts in the field across the country.
For these reasons and countless more, I believe that that early childhood education has economic ramifications that are far reaching for Harris County. Just think for a moment if school outcomes improved, fewer resources would be spent on grade repetition or special education services. Improvements in school performance would lead to higher educational achievement and subsequent economic success in adulthood, then our communities would benefit from higher tax revenues and reduced expenditures for social programs and the criminal justice system. As a result of improved economic outcomes, participants themselves benefit from higher lifetime incomes, and other members of society gain from reduced levels of delinquency and crime. For Black and Latino children, in particular, I believe that their future economic independence lies in attaining a quality education.
I would encourage you to join us in supporting quality early childhood programs. As a parent or community member, you can ask your local school board members or state representatives about how much they believe we should invest in this critical component of our children’s education. Based on the research and data, we know the positive impact this can have based professionals who work with our children on a daily basis. I further believe that the more children that receive an early introduction to concepts the further ahead we will become as a nation and as a society. Together, we can stand-up for quality early childhood education programs in all communities!
Co-written by Nelson D. Green, M. Ed and Erica S. Lee, candidate for the Harris County Board of Education, Pos. 6, Pct. 1. For information on quality early childhood education programs please contact the United Way of Greater Houston at 2-1-1.