Early education advocates will underscore local successes and call on the community and parents to do more to help young children prepare for the classroom during an April 19 meeting.
Partners for Early Learning, a nonprofit, will hold the meeting in conjunction with the Richland School District. The public is invited. Ross Hunter, the director of the state Department of Early Learning, is scheduled to attend.
Karen Weakley, the nonprofit’s president, said there’s a lot to say about the organization’s efforts since forming in 2012, from providing training to day care providers to helping teachers in preschools and elementary schools work together on what kids need to know before attending kindergarten.
But more work is ahead, particularly when it comes to parent awareness and community support, Weakley said.
“We really want to emphasize that early learning is a powerful force,” Weakley said.
Early learning advocates have said that the earliest years of life, from birth to 3 years old, are crucial in developing literacy as well as social and critical thinking skills.
The availability of quality preschool has increased as the state established more subsidized preschools in the Tri-Cities through the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, or ECEAP.
But those slots are primarily for the lowest-income families. Many private preschools and day cares don’t have access to good teaching materials and training or know how best to get kids ready for a regular classroom.
Weakley said that her nonprofit’s monthly training meetings have had an average of 50 to 70 day care and preschool providers attending classes on how best to teach and what to teach to prepare kids for their formal education. Those meetings also have increased networking among the providers and teachers in elementary schools.
While the nonprofit initially received some state tax dollars to pay for its work, that support has ended and the organization relies upon donations and sponsorships to pay for training and any learning materials it gives to providers to use in teaching kids.
Drumming up continued support for the nonprofit’s work is one of the meeting’s goals, Weakley said, and ties into the documentary Are We Crazy About Our Kids?, part of The Raising of America series.
The documentary highlights the economic benefits of investing in early education, from increased graduation rates and worker productivity to eventual lower social costs when it comes to welfare and the justice system.
Parents at home also need to play a role, Weakley said. There are programs in the Tri-Cities — such as READY! for Kindergarten — that give parents free materials to help parents educate their young children at home, but many aren’t aware of those resources.
Weakley encourages parents to attend the April 19 meeting with an eye to learning how to best to prepare their children for their future.
“I’m hoping anyone with a passion for early learning will join us,” she said.
Partners for Early Learning community meeting
When: 5 to 8 p.m. April 19
Where: Richland Public Library
What: Update on early education initiatives, screening of The Raising of America: Are We Crazy About Our Kids?
Cost: Free, but preregistration is appreciated. Send an email to Erich.Bolz@rsd.edu