Planting seeds

About 85 percent of a child’s brain architecture is developed by age 3, but less than 4 percent of education dollars are typically spent on children at that time, according to Oklahoma Champions for Early Opportunities, a new coalition of Oklahoma business and community leaders.

That means increased emphasis on early childhood education is key to economic and workforce development, said Matt Robison, vice president of small business and workforce development for the State Chamber of Oklahoma and an OKCEO member.

“It’s difficult to really grasp that, especially when you are talking about education reform, because the business community wants issues resolved right now,” Robison said. “You really don’t see the benefit of your involvement in early childhood development immediately, but you will in the future.”

A joint effort of SmartStart Oklahoma, the Potts Family Foundation and the Oklahoma Business Rountable, OKCEO is committed to raising awareness of the pivotal role early learning has in a child’s overall education.

OKCEO members, state legislators and representatives of some of Oklahoma City’s largest companies gathered May 6 at Oklahoma City Educare, 500 S.E. Grand Blvd., to tour the $9 million, 30,000-squarefoot facility.

Opened in 2009, Oklahoma City Educare serves 212 disadvantaged children, from birth to 5 years old, with year-round early childhood education programs. The school is preparing to send its second
graduating class to kindergarten, armed with the social skills, mental
health services and nurturing support needed “to reverse a cycle of
poverty and dysfunction that we have in our state, and many other
states,” said Pat Potts of the Potts Family Foundation.

“We have some really startling statistics in our state about divorce, about child abuse, about drug use, and obesity and unhealthy lifestyles. All of those things are part of the baggage that often comes from getting the wrong start in life,” Potts said.

Early childhood education is more about developing
relationships and establishing healthy routines than about learning
letters and numbers, said Malana Means, Oklahoma City Educare’s lead
administrator and the early childhood services director for Sunbeam
Family Services, the facility’s managing partner.

“That’s
how we teach: It’s through play. It’s through interactions. It’s not
through sitting down at a desk. You won’t see any desks here at
Educare,” Means said.

The
student-to-teacher ratio is very small: eight-to-three for children
that are infants to 3 years old, and 17-to-three for ages 4 and 5. The
student body is largely Hispanic, and bilingual staff members help the
children learn Spanish and English, Means said.

“We
don’t want to take away their home language, but we want to make sure
they are leaving with English skills as well,” she said.

Oklahoma
City Educare is one of 17 such schools across the nation, including two
in Tulsa. Oklahoma City will partner with the new Oklahoma City Public
Schools Cesar Chavez Elementary next door to track the progress of
Educare graduates through longitudinal studies.

Oklahoma
City Educare was created through a partnership between Insamuch
Foundation, Sunbeam Family Services Inc., Community Action Agency of
Oklahoma, Canadian County and Oklahoma City Public Schools, and is
funded through a blend of public and private revenue.

Insamuch
Foundation president and CEO Bob Ross said $15 million in private funds
per year have to be raised to tap $10 million in funds from a state
pilot program. The school’s land was bought with MAPS for Kids funds.

“The
different layers of funding, the braid of funding that we do here, is
what makes this possible,” Means said. “That couple of years can make
such a huge difference in the trajectory of their lives. It’s worth it.”

Brendan Hoover

This material falls under the archives category because it was imported from our previous website. It will eventually be filtered into the proper category as time allows.

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