Celebrating Our Youngest Learners, This Week and Every Week

By: Brittany Brin, CFVI Administrative Coordinator and Anna Scarbriel, CFVI Initiative Consultant

diverse_childrenThe National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is one of the largest organizations in the United States, whose mission is to promote high quality early learning for all children through research and policy-making. Each year, NAEYC celebrates the Week of the Young Child™ to focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families and to recognize the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs. This year’s theme – Celebrating Our Youngest Learners – provides an opportunity to focus attention on this critical period for children’s social, physical, and psychological child development.

As we commemorate the Week of the Young Child™, the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) wants to highlight some of the statistics gathered through our Kids Count program and Early Childhood Advisory Committee (ECAC) strategic report. CFVI is passionate about the well-being of all our Virgin Islanders and would like to share a few pieces of information with the public about the current status of our children within the territory.

High-quality early childhood programs serve as effective, early interventions for low-income children in particular, providing them with stronger skills to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. In 2012, 53% of 5-year-olds entering public school in the Virgin Islands, were 6 months to 1 year behind developmental age-expectations in language and comprehension skills. It is critical for children to receive high quality early education to develop the skills needed to prepare them for formal schooling.

Throughout the Territory, our early childhood programs meet most of the required benchmarks for early learning standards, specialized teacher training, maximum class size, monitoring, meals, teacher in-service, and staff-child ratios. Areas found to meet partial standards are teacher degrees held, assistant teacher degrees held, and screening/referrals. Studies show that continually increasing costs of child care combined with the high cost of living in the Virgin Islands, contribute, in large part, to the number of children that are unprepared for school. Unfortunately, even from this young age, a cycle begins to develop when our young children are unprepared.

Third grade is a critical year, as children are shifting from learning to read to reading to learn. Children who are proficient readers by fourth grade are able to grasp the contents of reading material in other subjects. According to data provided, 46% of public school third graders scored below proficiency levels in 2011-2012. Low performance rates of young children often lead to unprepared junior high and high school students.

Furthermore, detachment and disconnection from school can often begin quite early and contribute to truancy and dropout. Two-hundred fifteen dropouts, ages 16-19 were reported in 2012-2013. Fortunately, there has been a significant reduction in high school drop-out rates from 2008, where an estimated count of 650 dropouts was reported. Nonetheless, high school dropout often leads to unemployment, poor health, and reliance on government assistance.

Like many social issues, solutions to these problems require a community effort, including involvement from parents, school personnel, business leaders, policy makers, and others. For example, an increase in federal funds for programs like Head Start can accommodate more families who cannot afford high quality child care services. Also, developmental/educational tool-kits can be made accessible for parents to learn about the most effective ways to interact with and support the development of their children. Teachers and early childhood educators should also have access to professional development courses that will further enhance their knowledge and expertise, ultimately strengthening the core of our early childhood programs in the Virgin Islands.

For our youngest children, EVERY week is an opportunity to grow and learn. CFVI urges ALL members of our Virgin Islands community to take the opportunity this week and every week to do something to support our next generation of learners and leaders.

For more information about our Kids Count Program, ECAC and other CFVI programs, head to our website at www.cfvi.net.

Categories: CFVI Highlights

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