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HCCF offers boost for students

My Opinion

October 09, 2013 | 10:33 AM

There are many ways in which riverboat money has been used to improve the quality of life for Harrison County residents, but perhaps few can compare to the recent decision by the Harrison County Community Foundation to fund all-day preschool classes for the county's children who come from lower-income (free and reduced lunch) families.

Question of the Week
Do you think all-day preschool would help prepare children for their education?
Studies have shown there is a direct correlation between the poverty level of students and their educational success.

According to the American Psychological Association, children from low socioeconomic environments acquire language skills more slowly, exhibit delayed letter recognition and phonological awareness and are at risk for reading difficulties. Children from even lower socioeconomic households are about twice as likely as those from high socioeconomic households to display learning-related behavior problems.

In 2011, Science Magazine published a long-term study that followed more than 1,500 children born in 1979 and 1980 and living in the lowest income neighborhoods of Chicago. More than 950 families took part in the city's Child-Parent Center Education Program, the second-oldest federally funded preschool program in the country, which focuses on school readiness. Some kids attended preschool when they were 3 or 4 years of age, while others attended only full-day kindergarten.

After tracking the students to age 28, researchers found that those who attended preschool were 28 percent less likely to develop alcohol or other drug problems or to wind up in jail or prison in adulthood. The odds of being arrested for a felony were cut by 22 percent, and students were 24 percent more likely to attend a four-year college.

Some kindergarten teachers in the community can attest to the following: When some children start school, they don't know how to hold a pencil or crayon; some children have never been included in a social activity outside of their own family; some children don't know their ABCs; some children can't count to 10; some don't know their colors. By the time these children start kindergarten, they could be well behind their peers. When children start kindergarten behind, they are more likely to stay behind for the rest of their lives, and the gap only widens with time.

If a child's parents never graduated high school or attended college, chances are incredibly high that child will continue in their parents' footsteps. At some point, the cycle has to be broken. All-day preschool could be that first step.

The knee-jerk reaction is to complain that the program isn't offered to all children, and perhaps that can be a goal of the HCCF somewhere down the line. The difficult piece to that puzzle is finding already-limited space in our crowded schools for the preschool classes. It's not an insurmountable problem, but one that will surely need to be addressed if the organization hopes to expand the program.

Just as architects can't build a great building on a weak foundation, we can't build great students without a solid foundation. The Harrison County Community Foundation deserves praise for providing the financial backing to help students to reach their full potential, which should help out our society in Harrison County as a whole.

Twitter: @_alanstewart

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