The number of students who show up to school behind in their studies is something one Tri-City businessman said he hears about regularly.
Mike McWhorter's wife, a second-grade teacher and the sales executive at PayneWest Insurance, said she'll tell him about the students who show up to the first day of school not reading at their grade level or lacking valuable social skills.
"It's just sometimes very difficult," he said. "The teachers have to spend so much time with those who are behind."
McWhorter was one of about 30 business and community leaders at a fundraising breakfast Thursday morning for Partners for Early Learning, an organization stemming from a Richland School District initiative.
The organization's leaders called on the business community to help pay for training opportunities for child care providers as well as materials such as books and first aid kits so families can better prepare their children before they get to kindergarten.
Without these efforts, they said, more children won't be ready for school and that could lead to future problems for them, the community and the economy.
Many children don't begin their formal education before kindergarten when they're about 5 years old. However, early learning advocates said the first five years of a child's life are crucial to not only learning to read but also in developing social and critical thinking skills. Parents and child care providers don't always know what they can do to help their children's development.
"It's more than just knowing your ABC's and recognizing colors," said Nicole Blake, Richland's executive director of teaching and learning.
The group has been holding monthly training sessions for child care providers on preparing children for kindergarten. They want to continue that training and provide materials to families, such as tip sheets on activities parents can do with their kids and backpacks full of children's books, school supplies and first aid kits.
However, tax dollars to support that work have dried up, leading the organization to seek the business community's support. And early learning is critical to the economy, said Steve Leahy of nonprofit ReadyNation, because while employers can train workers on technical skills, it's very difficult to teach cooperation, critical thinking and problem solving.
"Everything that gets a kid on the right track or not happens before they're in kindergarten," Leahy said.
Partners for Early Learning doesn't have a specific financial target at this time, said President Karen Weakley. The group just wants "to put things in the hands of providers," she said.
The group didn't leave the breakfast empty-handed: officials from the Children's Reading Foundation presented a $2,500 check to the organization to kick off its efforts.
"Certainly if a nonprofit can find the money to do this, it's important," said Rick Donahoe, the national foundation's business manager and Richland School Board member.
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald