As a city, we are thrilled that the business community has added early childhood development to its list of five strategic priorities.
The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce must be applauded for shining a light on this issue of school readiness, which plagues under-resourced neighborhoods.
With the leadership of the chamber, along with former mayors Kay Barnes and Carol Marinovich, and Tracy McFerrin Foster of the Hall Family Foundation at the helm, we have a great chance to transform this city, empowering the next generation of Kansas City families and children. But, as they take the lead, everyone must step up to lend a hand.
No task, in my opinion, could be more important than preparing toddlers to learn. This has been a preoccupation of mine for a half century, initially as a kindergarten teacher and then as the head of the largest Head Start agency in the greater Kansas City area for 30 years. Since then, I have served in leadership roles at the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Child Development Associate Council for Professional Recognition.
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You’d be amazed by how ill-prepared many children are when they arrive at kindergarten. They often don’t understand socialization — sharing, talking, playing together, waiting their turn, listening, engaging and more. Some don’t even know their real name after being called nicknames. Predictably, these children are often unable to learn, become increasingly frustrated as they fall farther behind year by year, their emergent self-esteems shattered.
As we refocus on early learning, we must remember that this city once considered it a top priority. I am reminded of some great partnerships. The Metropolitan Council on Childcare often led the way, improving professional development, teacher salaries and overall quality in early education. We were able to extend Head Start to a full day in a program called Full Start, which combined Head Start funding with state and community resources.
We collaborated to provide special development training and resources to child care centers and homes all around the city. This full-day approach allowed parents to hold on to full-time jobs, knowing their children were in safe, learning environments. Business owners understand the essential need for accessible and affordable childcare for employees.
More recently, the Kansas City Freedom Schools Initiative, a local nonprofit, created a Pre-K Kindergarten Readiness program — “Kindergarten Boot Camp” for toddlers — and the results have been phenomenal. The initiative also worked with Kansas City Public Schools and the Local Investment Commission, to serve Pre-K children at the African Centered College Preparatory Academy School and the Woodland Early Learning Center.
Additionally, last summer our Freedom Schools acknowledged, with special programming, Congress’ new Strong Start for America’s Children Act, a 10-year federal-state partnership to improve early learning opportunities for pre-kindergarten children.
Thankfully, we know many of the solutions: universal early care from Pre-K, intentional learning, community collaboration, qualified teachers, active parents, engaged churches and organizations, but more importantly a commitment by all the residents of Kansas City.
To win, this cannot be a “they” effort. It must be all of us. Let’s work together to make Kansas City a better place for all its young residents.
Dwayne Crompton is board chairman of the Kansas City Freedom Schools Initiative.