A recent report found that only 43 percent of Clark County children are ready for kindergarten on the first day. A group of educators, child care providers and other stakeholders hoping to see that number rise are now rallying to improve access to early childhood education.
The Southwest Washington Early Learning Regional Coalition and the nonprofit Support for Early Learning and Families held a Call to Action Forum on Thursday afternoon to start the conversation about the county’s low rate of school readiness. The event was one of four forums being held across the region.
More than 50 people representing local school districts, Clark County Public Health, Vancouver Housing Authority, Washington State University Vancouver, Educational Service District 112, early education organizations, child care providers and other groups attended the event at Clark College. The goal was to get people discussing possible solutions and considering the next steps, said Debbie Ham, executive director of Support for Early Learning and Families.
“We want to build a movement around early childhood education,” she said.
Ridgefield School District Superintendent Nathan McCann shared his experiences working as a superintendent in Arizona. After a year as superintendent at a small K-8 school district, McCann said he realized the need for a much more rigorous early childhood education program.
Too many children were beginning their school careers without any knowledge of how to be a student, he said. They couldn’t follow directions from adults, they didn’t know how to interact with their peers.
A study reinforced what he was seeing in the classroom.
“The students who were placed in high-quality preschools did markedly better than kids who didn’t have that experience,” McCann said.
Closing the gap
A statewide effort to improve early childhood education in Arizona — funded by a tobacco tax — ensured that every child 3 years and older was taught by early childhood certificated educators in a licensed facility. Those efforts, he said, helped to close the gap.
For similar efforts to happen here, McCann said, early childhood education needs to be considered part of the education continuum. The education system should be preschool to 12th grade, not kindergarten to 12th grade, he said.
“I think most of the public see early childhood education as an add-on, and many see it as unnecessary,” McCann said. “I think it will gain credibility when early education is hooked to K-12.”
That idea, Ham said, is one possible solution. Other possibilities discussed at the forum include collaboration between the public school system, social service programs and preschool providers, local public funding for early learning and legislative education and advocacy.
Anne McEnerny-Ogle, a Vancouver city councilor and a teacher for 30 years, challenged those in attendance to get involved in the effort, whether contacting legislators, spreading the word about the need for improved early childhood education or donating to groups aimed at closing the opportunity gap.
“We have some work to do,” McEnerny-Ogle said.
Through the forums and follow-up activities this summer, Ham hopes to keep the momentum going until October, when the organizations will host a regional early learning summit to map the next steps.
“The plan is to continue to move this conversation forward, whatever way we can,” she said.