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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 at 10:12 PM

Editorial - Teachers Emphasize Importance of Early Childhood Education

Editorial - Teachers Emphasize Importance of Early Childhood Education
  by Leanna Lehman -- Two teachers at Northside Early Learning Center, NELC, are speaking out about the implications for children in the community as impending program cuts draw near. Emily Bingham and Jenelle Pope are seeking answers from the district leadership that attributes the current fiscal predicament to a “Perfect Storm.” NELC serves three and four-year-old students; English language learners, children with special needs, and children with speech and other developmental delays. They also serve students from moderate to low-income families. Essentially, Northside provides core early learning skills to the most vulnerable student population for their age group. Like nearly every other educational institution in America, Northside relies on a spectrum of grant funded programs. One drawback of grant funding is that monies  end when grant expires. In most cases, grants help districts and schools start essential educational programs with the goal of being self-sustained. The primary grant for the four-year old program was a PDG pre-development grant. The five-year federal program was administered by the state and officially ended in December 2018, but was extended through through the end of the school year. According to Derild Parsons, CCSD Special Services Director, the grant prohibited re-applying for funds while actively receiving grant monies. A new grant may be applied for, but only after a one-year gap period. This was brought to the attention of teachers last spring, one semester before the official expiration of the grant. Teachers were also informed that the Zoom program for 3-year olds was set to expire the end of this school year. At that time, teachers were told that state-level funding would be in place. However, that state level funding has yet to materialize and even if it does, it is not expected to be meet the programs funding requirements. In addition to program cuts, lost jobs, and forced transfers, Northside teachers have been told many conflicting tales of woe, there is some question to the intention and efficacy of their leaders. NELC teacher, Emily Bingham, shared her concern. “I want to believe people are in their positions because they love education and love what they are doing. And I want to trust that what they are here to do the right thing, but it’s time they put the money where their mouth is.” This exasperation comes on the heels of CCSD Superintendent Summer Stephens stating she wanted to “keep cuts as far away from students as possible” during recent budget and school board meetings. It’s no secret that Stephens inherited a host of sizable problems and is facing an uphill budget battle. Bingham and Pope are not unsympathetic. However, Pope explained that “To hear that, then to hear a Board member say verbatim in a meeting that pre-k is not a priority, it feels like they don’t care.” NELC teachers have taken to heart CCSD’s new initiative.  What does a child need to succeed as a whole? According to Bingham, all NELC students learn  a great deal outside the scope of early academics. “Pre-k students are taught skills critical to their development during this time, including self-help skills, language and emotional development skills, and fine-motor skills, just to name a few.” Students also received free vision and hearing screenings, along with lunch and breakfast. NELC also teachers also take pride in their family engagement piece. “Parents are participating in and buying into their students’ education; we are really serving families, not just children” Bingham stated. The research is clear that pre-k can significantly benefit children in kindergarten and throughout their entire education. The number one complaint from K-1 teachers is that more students don’t have access to pre-k. They are expected to have their children at par and grade level ready.  However, they are dealing with a variety of unlearned social skills no longer necessarily fostered at home, Brigham and Pope explained. NELC was used as an exemplary early-childhood development model and was visited by other districts also establishing pre-development programs. The student data is outstanding, the social impact is extremely positive, and the teachers are passionate about what they are doing. Virtually every educational program in the nation face problems, funding or otherwise. Bingham and Pope simply ask: Why has NELC had a different site administrator for the last several years? Why can’t NELC teachers get clear, noncontradictory, information in a timely manner? Why didn’t CCSD leadership have a solid plan in place for funding the expiring grant programs? Until early childhood programs are mandated at the state level, programs like that at NELC will continue to be in jeopardy. Read more about Northside funding cuts from the May 4th story: Hail Mary Pass   Never miss a meeting or community event – keep an eye on the community calendar at https://www.thefallonpost.org/events/ Please support our effort to provide local, independent news and contribute to The Fallon Post, your online news source for all things Fallon.