Kalamazoo County Ready 4s: Can You Think of a Wiser Investment?0
Remember kindergarten? A common thread amongst adults is that at one point in time, we all experienced kindergarten. Some may be smiling- remembering those early years of school; for others, memories of kindergarten may not be so kind. In Kalamazoo County, it is known that far too many children (almost 50%) enter kindergarten each year and begin their K-12 education behind their classroom peers. The good news is that some children are able to catch up; the bad news- almost 25% will never graduate on time with their classmates. As a community, ask yourselves if this is okay. In 2018, shouldn't 100% of Kalamazoo County children at a minimum, possess a high school diploma?
What is known now is that approximately 85% of a child's social, emotional and intellectual abilities are determined by age five. Given this knowledge, early investments in children from birth to age five makes sense and is a wise decision. The added benefit to all is that by providing early childhood learning opportunities for children prior to entering kindergarten, every child benefits when every child enters school prepared for that experience.
One of the most exciting initiatives occurring in Kalamazoo County to support young children prior to entering kindergarten is the expansion of pre-kindergarten opportunities for 4-year-olds. This initiative is a collaborative effort between the federally funded Head Start program, the state funded Great Start Readiness Program, and unique only to our county, the locally funded Kalamazoo County Ready 4s' program. The overall goal of this initiative is to level the playing field so that every child possesses the skills and abilities to find success in kindergarten and beyond.
KC Ready 4s' vision "is that every child in Kalamazoo County will begin kindergarten ready to succeed." This is accomplished by supporting licensed, private providers in achieving and sustaining high-quality learning environments, and to encourage and support families to enroll their child in a pre-K program, providing tuition assistance to qualifying families based on family income and size. KC Ready 4s is now working with over 50 private, pre-K programs located throughout Kalamazoo County and have provided some level of tuition support for hundreds of children. Since the beginning the organization has been intentional about building partnerships with existing organizations and service providers who also serve young children and their families. We are stronger together!
Good news, efforts are paying off based on results from our most recent kindergarten readiness research study. Findings show a child who participates in a high-quality pre-K program associated with Kalamazoo County Ready 4s increases achievement during the pre-K year, relative to what children would otherwise be doing, by an average of over 50% of normal progress, or 8 percentile points. For minority students, the results are even stronger. Overall, the estimated effects of KC Ready 4s on minority students are over twice as great, averaging 18 percentile points.
Although as a community significant strides in increasing access to high-quality pre-K have been made, we're still not reaching all of the eligible children as federal and state programs are not meeting the need in Kalamazoo County. Above and beyond what we are already serving, it is estimated that an additional 400 4-year-olds who qualify for free pre-K are not being served. Lack of available funding as well as connecting with families are two challenges as we work to ensure equal access for all.
For employers, investing in early childhood education pays off now and in the future. Employers see an immediate return on investment as their employees with young children benefit as attendance improves when stable care is provided for young children. Long-term, employers also benefit as high-quality pre-K is a proven strategy to improve workplace skills including: attendance, attitudes, a willingness to learn, and the ability to work with others. Children develop these soft skills in quality pre-K programs during their early years when nurtured, and encouraged, the skills last throughout adulthood. The additional bonus is these programs increase long-run county earnings and purchasing power by at least $50 million annually (Tim Bartik, 2011).
"What can you do to help?" Here are a few suggestions:
- Spread the word- If you're an employer talk with employees and tell them the importance of enrolling 4-year-olds in a high-quality pre-K program.
- Share the application with families (available mid to late February) by referring them to the KC Ready 4s' website.
- Start the conversation with employers, business representatives, colleagues, friends, family members and others about offering financial support. Share that investing in high-quality pre-K is an investment in children today, and the future workforce of tomorrow.
- Donate! Every gift is important, and with more donations the more children can be served.
The greater Kalamazoo community has never been in a better position to positively change outcomes for the 3,000 plus children who enter our kindergarten classrooms each year! These children, along with their parents, have hopes and dreams for a brighter future, and by supporting high-quality pre-K access for all, it will become a reality. As a community, can you think of a wiser investment?
Guest writer Sandy Standish is Executive Director Kalamazoo County Ready 4s.