From our different backgrounds as district attorney and early childhood education administrator, when we meet seriously disadvantaged young people, we wish we had the super power to improve their odds, to make them better.
From our combined years of experience working with other officials, experts and agencies, we know a super power does exist that helps improve a child’s well-being and future. The power is early education, with engaged parents.
Experience and experts tell us that birth to 5 are the critical years for determining a child’s success later in life, and that parents must be engaged in high-quality early-learning efforts.
The evidence is so strong that it has brought together a national, bipartisan nonprofit of law enforcement leaders working to support early childhood programs. The effort is called “Fight Crime, Invest in Kids.” Across the country, district attorneys are working to bring awareness to programs like Head Start/Early Head Start on the Central Coast that provide solutions that ensure our next generation of Americans will be successful, and citizen-ready.
Being a good citizen means when you’re young attending school, then finding a career or trade, voting, volunteering and even paying taxes. The groundwork begins at home and right at birth.
There has been a new wave of interest in early education in recent years in the wake of mounting scientific evidence showing that the first five years of life are a time of rapid brain development. That’s why the public and policymakers need to know about the benefits — including kindergarten readiness, reduced dropouts and improved public safety — that accrue from investments in high-quality early education for at-risk children.
Even though the poverty rate in San Luis Obispo County is lower than the national average, the results of poverty are still pernicious for affected families and, if not addressed, can have awful consequences. Thus, investing in comprehensive birth-to-5 early childhood education is a powerful way to overcome the negative effects on child development and adult opportunity.
One study found that as much as 70 percent of the high school achievement gap between poor and wealthy kids already exists at kindergarten entry.
Children who enter kindergarten too far behind are likely to lag behind their peers throughout the K-12 system. Research shows a strong association between high school dropout and crime. Nationwide, seven out of 10 inmates in state prisons do not have a high school diploma.
These deficits create nearly insurmountable obstacles to their prospects for gainful, legitimate employment and self-sufficiency as adults.
Locally-directed programs like the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, which runs Head Start, operate on the premise that parents are their child’s first and most important teachers. Like most effective age 0-to-3 programs, Head Start improves parents’ skills as caregivers and educators, better preparing them to guide their child’s development from day one.
Head Start also provides a spectrum of services that enable parents to be more successful as adults and employees. Parents must be active in their child’s educational efforts as well as activities to improve their own lives, and then also become, themselves, community advocates for Head Start.
These priorities align perfectly with the focus to make young people citizen-ready. And that’s why we are promoting during this Head Start Awareness Month early childhood education efforts. We know the importance of high-quality early education and having parents involved in their child’s education from the get-go. That’s the kind of super power that works.