21 January 2011

High-quality early childhood ed linked to future success

by Christy Renjilian
Director of Community Initiatives
United Way of York County

For 15 years, the United Way of York County has been committed to improving the quality of early childhood education in York County, through the work of Focus On Our Future. The initiative began as a collaboration with Penn State York, Child Care Consultants and the York County Community Foundation. Today, many more organizations, businesses and community leaders are involved in promoting high-quality early childhood education.

When we began our work, one York County child-care center was nationally accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Today, 13 providers carry that certification.

Child care allows parents to work and employs thousands of York County residents. More importantly, it is the foundation for future learning. We know that the best way to ensure that a child will succeed in school, graduate from high school and become a productive member of society is to start them out on the right path.

The research of Dr. James Heckman, Nobel Laureate economist from the University of Chicago, concluded that the greatest return on investment is from programs that are targeted to young children. The 40-year High Scope Preschool study found for every $1 invested in high-quality early childhood education we can save $7 on costs associated with special education, teen pregnancy, high school dropouts, juvenile delinquency, welfare dependency and prison.

Dr. Craig Ramey of Georgetown University found that for every 50 kindergarten children who experience difficulty in learning pre-reading skills, 44 of them will not be reading on grade level in third grade. School performance in third grade can predict, with 90 percent accuracy, which children will go on to drop out of school. Therefore, it is imperative that we ensure that every child enters kindergarten with the skills necessary to succeed.

Focus On Our Future has helped to improve the quality of early childhood education in York County. In 2010, 140 providers were enrolled in Keystone STARS, Pennsylvania’s voluntary quality-improvement program for child care providers. Additional programs funded by the state Office of Child Development and Early Learning include Pre-K Counts, a program targeted to at-risk 4-year-olds. In the 2009-2010 school year, more than 98 percent of the at-risk children enrolled in this program were developmentally on track for school. The program serves 250 children. Head Start is another high-quality program serving 643 at-risk children and their families throughout York County.

Focus On Our Future also supports professional development for early childhood educators. In 2010, nearly 250 early childhood educators were enrolled in higher-education programs, and Focus On Our Future provided approximately $45,000 in scholarships. Over the past 10 years, 50 early childhood educators have enrolled in the Masters program at Penn State York, and 85 percent of them are still working in the field, helping children and the next generation of child care professionals every day. We are committed to providing the same high level of professional development and training to early childhood educators as the public school teachers receive.

Focus On Our Future works to build collaborations between the early childhood education programs and the public schools. Last year, we partnered with Dover, Eastern, Red Lion, Spring Grove and York City school districts to provide the Ready Freddy kindergarten readiness program for 180 children and families. This free program paired early childhood educators and kindergarten teachers with incoming kindergarten children and their families to make certain they had the skills they need to be successful in school and life.

While the United Way of York County is proud of the accomplishments made by the early childhood education community, there is more work to be done. Only 18 percent of York County children under age 5 have access to high-quality early childhood education programs. Only 27 percent of families that qualify for subsidized child care receive it. We continue to work with community partners, such as the Lincoln Intermediate Unit #12, to provide additional support for children with developmental delays, severe behavior problems and disabilities.

Over the next several months, I will be blogging about the importance of high-quality early childhood education, why it matters for the economic health of York County and how you can help to ensure that every child starts school on track and ready to succeed in life. And I'd love to hear your thoughts on what more we could be doing to make that happen.

Christy Renjilian is the Director of Community Initiatives for the United Way of York County. She has a Masters degree in Social Policy Analysis from the University of Chicago. Christy has more than 20 years of experience administering early childhood education programs and has been with the United Way of York County for more than five years. Christy also drafted the 2009 Stay in School report on dropout prevention for the United Way of York County and YorkCounts. She lives in Springettsbury Township with her husband and two children. Christy can be reached at renjilianc@unitedway-york.org or 717-771-3808.


Margaret L. Hughes said...

It is commendable that progress has been made in providing quality early childhood education for all children. However, without parental education, many parents are not equiped to follow through at home. Success in school is much more likely to occur if parents are instructed before a child begins, to read daily to the child, learn how to use the children's library, assure as much as possible that the child has good nutrition, TV is limited, and adequate hours of sleep are assured.

Christy S. Renjilian said...

I couldn't agree with you more. Which is why Focus On Our Future works with the early childhood education providers, the library, school districts, physicians, local hospitals and home visitation programs to provide parent education to families before their children enter kindergarten. For example, Focus On Our Future provides the 100 Book Challenge program to nearly 325 children attending child care programs that feed into York City schools. This programs serves as a "lending library" for the families to promote early literacy and encourage families to read to their children daily. We also partner with WellSpan's Community Health department to provide nutrition workshops for families and curriculum support for the early chilhood teachers. Focus On Our Future believes that we must work with the families, as the child's first teacher, to ensure that they get off to great start.

YorkCounts said...

We should watch closely what the new administration and state legislators in Harrisburg have in mind for education funding in the next budget. Based on Christy's data, it would seem to make sense to do whatever possible to maintain funding for education generally, but especially for early ed programs.