In short, I was adamantly against this new experience.
Granted, it may seem odd to be able to recall the emotional feeling at this stage of my life; however, as a young child I felt nothing more at that time than uncertainty of the world outside the home. I was first described by my preschool teacher, Mrs. Robin Kowalski, as shy, quiet and undetermined to achieve anything except for getting through the school day.
It was finally halfway through the year that I spoke for the first time in class. Needless to say, my teacher had tears in her eyes when I decided to show my true colors. My success in self-confidence was a celebratory affair for my family and faculty alike.
Fast-forward to 2017. I am now a senior at James Madison College of Michigan State University, closing in on graduation with a bachelor’s degree in International Relations. As I near the end of my undergraduate college career as a two-year Student Body President and an intern for the Michigan League for Public Policy, I can’t help but reflect on the dramatic difference my educational pathway has made in helping me evolve these past 21 years.
Surely, my pathway to success wouldn’t have been the same without my early childhood education experience. Comprehensively, early education programs improve cognitive development, emotional development, self-regulation and academic achievement. Longer-term benefits also reflect that of the community, such as reduction in teen birth rates and crime rates. So, how can today’s Michigan toddlers expect the same success in childhood development that I can directly attribute coming from my earliest experience in preschool?
The Great Start Readiness Program, or the state-funded preschool program for 4-year-old children with factors which may place them at risk of educational failure, is just one way for the state to advance its goal to be a “Top 10 State within 10 Years” under the Every Student Succeeds Act. While the initiative is designed for 4-year-olds, the curriculum may be modified and adjusted for 3-year-olds. The opportunity to attend preschool will only improve the success of a young learner in today’s changing society.
But what is Michigan’s report card currently showing in preschool enrollment? In 2015, only 47.4% of our state’s 3- and 4-year-olds were found to be enrolled in preschool, up slightly by 1.2% comparatively to rates measured by the League in 2009. Rural communities are falling behind in early childhood education enrollment compared to urban communities. Families of marginalized communities face additional burdens when it comes to early childhood education enrollment. Specifically, children of Latino or Hispanic background are underrepresented in early childhood education with 53% of children reported not to be attending preschool.
For our state to continue on a path of success in education, parents should be able to rely on our education systems to lead our youth into a path of childhood development before reaching for the pencil in kindergarten.
Now interning for the League, I can only hope to be a change-agent for our youth across the state of Michigan by connecting and sharing my story with legislators, meeting with our partners, developing policy work to prove the necessity of early education programs, and promoting the success of our state’s economy specifically through early childhood education. In the end, I hope to be an advocate of closing the gaps across communities in early childhood education enrollment so every kid is able to benefit from that experience.
Personally, I know that I would never have been able to feel confident to raise my hand and ask for my pencil to be sharpened if it wasn’t for my own preschool experience. I can only assume that there are more students in our state that could truly benefit from the experiences of early childhood education.
— Lorenzo Santavicca