Quality Early Childhood Programs: Good for the Economy

 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Contact: LZ Nunn, lznunn@projectlearninc.org

Lowell, MA – On May 23, over 70 business, education, nonprofit leaders and elected officials turned out for a symposium on early childhood education. Senator Eileen Donoghue, emcee for the event, pointed out that early childhood programs are important not just for children and the parents they serve, but for a thriving local economy.

“We know from research that our children can’t thrive without creative learning in the first years of life,” said Senator Eileen Donoghue, who chairs the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. “Our families and our communities can’t thrive without access to high quality early childhood education programs.”

Keynote speaker Lloyd Lamm, a retired banking executive and co-Chair of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission, highlighted the importance of early learning for children for their long-term success.

“Did you know that the average 3-year-old from a low-income family demonstrates an active vocabulary of around 500 words, whereas a 3-year-old from a professional family demonstrates a vocabulary of over 1000 words? And this disparity only increases as the children get older.”

Following Lamm’s talk, a panel discussion presented various perspectives on the value of early childhood for families and communities. "Providing access to high-quality preschool provides children with a solid foundation for learning and success, helps to strengthen our communities, and supports our state's collective future prosperity," said Early Education and Care Commissioner Tom Weber.  

Lowell General Pediatrician Dr. Eric Meikle said it was clear, from a medical perspective, when a child has access to early learning. “Children are born with all the hardware, what they need is the software.”

John Haley, President of the Project LEARN Board, and founder of Watermark, highlighted how his personal experience having young children informed what he hopes to support in policies for his employees. “When I started my business, my son went to Head Start through CTI, and it really helped him. Having had that experience, I know how important it is for my employees to have quality early childhood programs. It’s good for parents, and it’s good for families in the long term.”

And yet, access and affordability continue to be key challenges for working families in Lowell. Some families may not know about the early childhood programs Lowell has to offer.

“We’re reaching a crisis in the field of early childhood educators,” said Karen Frederick, Executive Director of Community Teamwork, Inc. “One of our early childhood teachers recently left the profession to be a Manager at a McDonald’s.”

One parent, Francey Slater, who attended the event, said, “The symposium opened my eyes to the fact that early childhood education is something we should all be paying close attention to.” Slater is the co-founder and co-director of Mill City Grows, an urban farming initiative in Lowell. “As the parent of a toddler, I can see every day the impact of enrichment on my son while he’s still really young. It’s immeasurably valuable.”

Early childhood education has become a passion for Project LEARN Board Member Michael Tith. “My wife and I have growing careers and two kids under 5 years. We think about our kids’ education on a daily basis and we’ve learned is that it takes a village to raise kids.” Tith’s family was one of the first Cambodian families to settle in Lowell, and his mother taught in the Lowell Public Schools. “Every child and their success matters to everyone’s bottom-line in the city.” 

According to Cheryl Finney, Executive Director of Clarendon Family Daycare in Lowell, the Early Childhood Education Symposium raised awareness on the importance of investing in children and educators.

Senator Donoghue said that to expand access and affordability to early childhood education, it will take a unified effort. “Each of you can help make a difference,” she said. Project LEARN and the Lowell Early Childhood Advisory Council will kick off a campaign to build awareness for early childhood education. Initiatives might include launching “Brain Boosting” kiosks in local businesses and events in local neighborhoods, installing Little Free Libraries around Lowell and keep them stocked with books for kids and families, and staffing a traveling van that goes into neighborhoods to help educate parents of the programs and services available.

Representative Rady Mom capped the morning’s message. “Early Childhood education and care is critical to the lifelong success of the child. As policy makers, we need to find ways to increase access to early childhood education, and also help to retain and develop our best early childhood education resource, the teachers.”

For more information, contact LZ Nunn at Project LEARN: lznunn@projectlearninc.org 978.726.5329