Caring for the very young

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 13, 2006

By Rebecca Houg, staff writer

Early childhood care providers and business leaders need to take an active role in Minnesota&8217;s future and they gathered with community leaders Thursday to talk about it.

&8220;This luncheon presentation and dialogue provides compelling evidence regarding the multiple economic benefits of preparing young children to be ready for kindergarten and school success,&8221;

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said Alice Englin, facilitator for the Freeborn County Family Services Collaborative.

About 65 people attended the Early Childhood Education Luncheon at the Elks Lodge in Albert Lea.

Mark Scally, an active advocate of early childhood education, spoke to the group and focused on

the importance of having quality education for young children.

&8220;Up to half of kids in Minnesota are not fully prepared to enter kindergarten,&8221; Scally said.

Shocked at this statistic, he did further research. He said he found out that if kids aren&8217;t going to be prepared for kindergarten, they probably won&8217;t be ready to read by third grade and the problem tends to snowball after that.

&8220;I&8217;m absolutely no education expert,&8221; he said, &8220;and this is not an education issue. It&8217;s a hiring issue.&8221;

According to Scally, it&8217;s important for business people to realize how important early childhood education is to their businesses&8217; future. There won&8217;t be quality employees and there won&8217;t be quality citizens if the issue is ignored.

Today, the United States needs to compete against the educational offerings in countries like China and India. Those countries are educating children so they go on to major in science, math, engineering and technology fields, he said.

&8220;In 2001 the number of math majors in America who were American citizens was 11,256,&8221; Scally said.

Investing in early education is about as good of an investment as a person can find, he said.

&8220;With a return of about $10 to $16, we can&8217;t afford to lose any more kids in the state of Minnesota at all.&8221;

Brad and Todd Otis of Ready4K from Minneapolis were on hand to speak about the issue. Ready4K is a nonpartisan, statewide campaign bringing people together to raise awareness and advocate for policy change to ensure that all children enter kindergarten fully prepared to succeed.

&8220;This is a community issue,&8221; Otis said. &8220;We need to raise public awareness and change public policy to give kids a better start in life.&8221;

Ready4K is only five years old, but works as a source of information for early childhood providers to help them communicate with local citizens.

&8220;If I knew then, what I know now, I would have been a better parent,&8221; Otis said.

School readiness gaps are tell-tale predictors of later educational development gaps according to Ready4K analyst, Megan Waltz.

&8220;An achievement gap exists long before our youngest citizens enter kindergarten,&8221; Waltz said.

The human brain develops more rapidly between birth and age five than during any other subsequent period. A child&8217;s ability to be attentive, focused and follow directions emerges in the early years. High quality early learning fosters these abilities for later success in school and life, according to Ready4K sources.

Sen. Dan Sparks, D-Minn., attended the meeting and said, &8220;Early childhood is such an important issue.&8221;

&8220;As a member of the Early Childhood Committee in the Minnesota senate, we worked hard during the last session to restore 22 million dollars to these programs,&8221; he said.

However, he said that there is still a lot of work to be done. Sparks faces challenger George Marin in the Nov. 7 elec tion.

&8220;We need to continue to educate our local communities as to how important Ready4K and early childhood programs are to local communities and our entire state,&8221; Sparks said.

For more information on what you can do to play a role in early childhood education, call Alice Englin at 377-5504.