Summit, state’s first lady emphasize early education

Gov. Inslee's wife addresses public officials, educators at SELF Early Learning Summit

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter

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With local and state advocates saying most kindergartners in Southwest Washington and across the state aren’t ready to start school, the state’s first lady Trudi Inslee and other speakers called for more collaboration from private and public partners to support families with young children.

That was the theme from Support for Early Learning and Families’ Early Learning Summit on Tuesday, Inslee also toured Clark County Food Bank during her visit, helping repack food boxes with volunteers and prepare food in the organizations nutrition classes.

Inslee called herself and her husband, Gov. Jay Inslee, friends to the early childhood education community in her speech to a crowd of educators and public officials at WareHouse ’23.

“There’s never too much we can do as far as education in the state,” Inslee said.

Tuesday’s all-day session is among the work SELF is doing to promote its State of our Children and Families report released earlier this year, a snapshot of the needs of families with children 5 years old or younger.

That report, based on state Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills or WaKIDS data, found that 42 percent of Southwest Washington kindergartners aren’t ready to start school.

That number is lower for low-income students — 28 percent — many students of color — 26 percent for black students and 26 percent for Hispanic and Latino students — and special education students — 19 percent. The organization is gearing up to release an updated report early next year.

Alan Cohen, director of Thrive Washington, was the event’s keynote speaker. Thrive sponsored the development of SELF’s report.

Cohen said Washington has failed to create an early childhood education system that has allowed children and families to succeed. He cited research that suggests children who are not reading at grade level by third grade are significantly less likely to graduate high school on time, adding that, in Washington, only 36 percent of children from low-income families are reading at grade level.

“That’s a failing of community when we allow a child to be 8 years old and not reading.”

Mayor Pro Tem and mayoral candidate Anne McEnerny-Ogle also called for improved collaboration between public and private partners to encourage early learning across Clark County.

A retired first-grade teacher, she listed community investments like the Fort Vancouver Regional Library’s children’s floor, complete with games and activities as well as books, and music in Esther Short Park, as well as quiet rooms available for nursing mothers at east Vancouver’s Banfield Pet Hospital among efforts to support young children.

“We know as early childhood teachers all those things that affect a child’s brain,” McEnerny-Ogle said.