Letter to the Editor: Young children need high-quality services

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Preschool providers protest outside the Wilson Building on June 5. (Mark Lieberman/The Current/June 2017)

The first five years of a child’s life are more formative than at any other stage, creating either a sturdy or a fragile foundation. Seventy-five percent of brain growth and 85 percent of intellectual, personality and social skills develop before age 5. To make the most of these early years, children need consistent and nurturing care, safe and stimulating environments, nutritious food and attention to their physical needs, and opportunities to engage in positive interactions with adults and other children.

Study after study shows that children who attend high-quality early learning programs demonstrate higher levels of school achievement and better social and emotional skills. They are less likely to repeat a grade or require special education services and are more likely to graduate from high school. These are the outcomes we can expect when we ensure that every program serving young children is a high-quality-program.

Having high-quality/highly compensated teachers is the first building block toward high-quality programs. We must ensure that lead teachers hold a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field, with formalized training in child development and proven strategies for effective teaching and learning.

The second most important factor in program quality is teacher/child interactions. Teachers who make a significant difference in children’s lives are caring individuals who are genuine in their interactions with children, and intentional about planning and executing rich and meaningful experiences that promote children’s social-emotional and intellectual development.

The third most important building block is a robust and engaging curriculum, which is what is taught and how it is taught. Children benefit greatly from a hands-on, comprehensive curriculum that is standards-based, play-based and assessment-based, and that incorporates all of the domains of learning.

The DC Early Learning Collaborative is a multi-sector, advocacy alliance of over 100 early childhood educators and organizations that practice the craft of early care and education in traditional and public charter schools, in center-based and home-based early childhood settings, and in Head Start programs. We seek to build public knowledge, public will and public action toward ensuring that every child in the District of Columbia, from infancy through school entry, has access to high-quality affordable early childhood programs. Full access will provide a key building block for the District’s pre-K-through-12th-grade school reform efforts, workforce development initiatives and long-term economic vitality.

Regarding those who are protesting the new credentialing requirements, we have reached out to them to let them know we want to work with them. We all want what’s best for children, and together we can figure out what works for both providers and teachers.

Carrie Thornhill, President, DC Early Learning Collaborative