BY BOB FEIKEMA
FAMILY SERVICES PRESIDENT AND CEO
There is clear evidence that pre-kindergarten has a profound impact on children’s learning and a lasting impact on the quality of their lives as adults.
The first five years are a once-only window of opportunity to develop the social, emotional, cognitive, and academic readiness that enables children to succeed later in life. A young child’s brain architecture forms at an astounding rate, with more than one million new neural connections created every second. But it’s not only what’s happening inside the brain that matters. A nurturing and enriching environment is required for optimal brain development, the kind of environment provided by the skilled teachers, and “resource-full” classrooms found in quality Pre-K programs.
Every year there are approximately 4,500 four-year-olds in Forsyth County. While 2,700 are eligible for publicly-funded Pre-K based on family income, only 1,300 are enrolled, due to insufficient state and local funding. At the same time, middle-class families constantly struggle to find affordable, high-quality Pre-K programs.
In June 2014, Family Services launched The Pre-K Priority, an initiative involving over twenty organizations from the early learning field, with the goal of making quality Pre-K programs available to all four-year-olds in Forsyth County. This initiative assumed even greater urgency when, in 2017, a Harvard study came out that ranked Forsyth County 5th worst out of 2,873 counties nationwide for helping poor children move up the income ladder.
Quality Pre-K is an effective means for closing the widening opportunity gap for children in Forsyth County. It prepares children to achieve academic proficiency during the elementary school years, providing the foundation for successful learning throughout high school and beyond. A recent Duke University study of more than one million North Carolina public school children confirmed this, finding significant educational benefits from the state-funded Smart Start and North Carolina Pre-K programs.
These findings have been a spur to The Pre-K Priority’s launch of a public education and engagement campaign, with the goal of increasing public awareness and support for quality Pre-K in Forsyth County. Over the coming months, this campaign will show up everywhere—on billboards and buses, on radio and television, in newspapers and on social media. Our aim is to ignite public sentiment and create a movement to make Forsyth County a place that makes smart investments in its young children that will ensure the future vitality and well-being of our community. We are grateful to the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust for funding the public education and engagement campaign.
Through our recent scientific survey of county residents, we found that the vast majority recognize the importance of early childhood education and believe we should be doing more to support quality Pre-K. Our goal is to translate that recognition into a commitment to develop and fund a system of quality Pre-K programs in Forsyth County. The time is now to take this step on behalf of our youngest children. After all, they are the employees, parents, citizens, and leaders of the future. As we like to point out at the Pre-K Priority, “The future is four years old.”