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Early Childhood Education Builds Stronger Communities

The following post was written by Monica Bandy, summer intern for the Alliance for Children and Families and United Neighborhood Centers of America's Public Policy Office. She is a graduate student and a former Head Start teacher, who has been closely monitoring proposed early childhood education reform this summer.
Nearly 90 percent of brain growth takes place in a child’s first 2,000 days - long before they first step foot into Kindergarten. Healthy brain development requires developmentally appropriate, positive, and intentional interaction. When children have access to stimulating learning environments and responsive relationships with their parents and caregivers, their brains develop the connections necessary for success. When families have access to early childhood resources that help them build on the strengths of their community, our neighborhoods grow stronger. Watch a video on the importance of early childhood brain development from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child.
When a child is exposed to an environment that includes toxic stresses, such as: extreme poverty, chronic neglect, abuse, or exposure to violence, the child’s brain circuitry is fundamentally altered. This difference in brain development can place children exposed to toxic stress far behind their more advantaged peers, making it more difficult for them to keep up in, and ultimately graduate from, school. The achievement gap appears long before children enter Kindergarten, and this gap becomes much harder to close after age five.
Investments in early childhood education are proven to have a high rate of return by preventing these disparities before they start. In 2012 Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke estimated the return on investment for early childhood programs to be 10% or higher. Intervening early also reduces costs to society in the long run, by decreasing future enrollment in federal assistance programs and law enforcement activities. We can prevent the achievement gap, save money, and create better health and economic outcomes for our communities with early childhood education.
Quality early childhood education engages the community and develops the next generation of human capital. UNCA member agency Chicago Commons is an example of some of the fantastic work happening in the early childhood realm. Chicago Commons offers comprehensive services to families including: full day preschool, after school care, parent forums, adult education programs, and neighborhood support programs.  By partnering with families Chicago Commons prepared 1,082 preschoolers for Kindergarten in FY2011. Our communities can best realize their full potential when they can build on a strong foundation from early education.
Right now, there is a rare window of opportunity to increase federal support of early learning by building on what is already happening in several states. Twenty seven governors referenced the importance of early childhood education in their state of the state addresses, while President Obama proposed increased federal investments in early childhood education in his State of the Union address.
Show your support for early childhood education by signing the Grow America Stronger petition and/or sharing your story about your positive personal experience with early learning.
Now is the time to raise our voices in support of early childhood education. Quality early learning opportunities make every child, every family, and every community stronger.

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Blog | by Dr. Radut