Why Is This A Focus?
Current research tells us all we need to know about the importance of early childhood development. The largest opportunities to improve the trajectory of a child’s life happen during pregnancy and the earliest years of life, and continue through age five. Much of the critical development occurs before children enter the formal education system at kindergarten. From the time of conception to the first day of kindergarten, a person’s brain development proceeds at a faster pace than it will at any other stage of life. Ninety percent of physical brain development occurs in the first three years of life, when a baby forms 700 new neural connections per second. This building process is dramatically influenced by life experiences. In particular, the quality of adult/child interaction strongly affects brain development and the cognitive and social-emotional skills that shape life outcomes. Early childhood sets the course for what will happen in the first years of formal K-12 education and well beyond. When a young child enters kindergarten ready for school, there is an 82 percent chance that child will master basic skills by age 11, compared with a 45 percent chance for children who are not school ready. Later in life, at-risk children who do not get high-quality early childhood experiences are 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 40 percent more likely to become teen parents, and 60 percent less likely to attend college. Further, early childhood development affects health and mental health. Comprehensive early interventions that combine health, nutrition, and learning have the potential to reduce risk factors associated with chronic diseases, such as hypertension and high blood sugar, well into adulthood.
In Our Community. . .
Today there are over 600 children in the Ypsilanti community under the age of five. Over 100 families are now on waiting lists for enrollment in early education and many more have not attempted to enroll. In Ypsilanti, there are four public school locations for early childhood learning, providing early education for 4 year olds in center-based, full-day/part-day, part-year programs. Some families can qualify for free enrollment. A full community-wide assessment of current needs for younger children and their parents is not yet available. Critical needs in these areas must be fully examined, strategies coordinated, and services expanded. At present, there is limited tracking of individual students to assess need and risks, and limited support to households in need, yet a large percentage of families, perhaps 50% or more, live below the poverty level. Many of these families experience great challenges in accessing resources and in maintaining what they work each day to achieve; a healthy environment with minimal stress and few adverse child experiences in the home.