In this economy, many have taken steps to save money - people clip coupons, eat out less, walk or ride the bus instead of driving.
This also has held true in government, from federal to local levels, as well as in business. Shrinking funds call for close scrutiny on how money is spent and which investments will yield the highest returns.
What would you say about an investment that achieved a return of $16.14 for every $1.00 invested? "Sounds great," you may say, "Where do I sign up?"
You may be surprised to learn that this impressive rate of return can be found in investments in quality early learning programs.
The High Scope-Perry Preschool Project found that for every $1 invested in early learning, $11.35 was returned to society in crime-cost savings, $1.55 was returned to society in savings on special education and welfare plus increased revenue from income taxes, and $3.24 was returned to each individual through increased earnings.
Research shows that directing resources to programs that serve young children pays off by requiring that less funding for remedial help in school, higher graduation rates, reduced levels of criminal activity and reliance on public assistance. How does this work?
Consider an example. At 1 year old, young "Susie" lives at poverty level with her single mother who feels alone and scared. By her second birthday, her mom is working two jobs to make ends meet and Susie is left strapped in a seat at a babysitter's house, watching TV.
At 3 years, her mom loses her jobs and they have to sleep at a different friend's house every week. By 4 years, Susie is getting her own cereal and watching cartoons while her mom sleeps because she's gotten another job but it's the night shift and she needs to sleep during the day.
When she turns 5, Susie goes to kindergarten, but she's tired, hungry and unprepared. Sadly, this is a situation that affects many young children. Parents are working several jobs or difficult shifts just to keep food on the table, so early learning opportunities are not a priority.
Lycoming County United Way (LCUW) recognizes this important community need and collaborates with other local human service agencies to address the problem. Through the Community Engagement Group Grant provided by the Office of Child Development and Early Learning administered by LCUW and STEP Inc., the Lycoming County Community Engagement Group works to support local quality early learning programs and to educate the community about their availability and importance.
"The greatest resource any community can have is the people who live there. If we truly want to make our collective community a better place to live, work and raise families, attention must be given to the human resource," said Scott N. Lowery, LCUW executive director.
"Two years ago we embraced the opportunity to collaborate with the Early Childhood Education initiative to help raise the level of preparedness for preschoolers to begin their formal educational years. Occasionally, someone will remark to me that they don't know anyone who has been helped by United Way," Lowery added. "But all of us know of families who are struggling and youngsters being raised in one-parent homes where day-to-day survival comes before attention to early learning. The efforts of ECE are aimed squarely at helping to address these deficiencies. This has to be among our highest priorities as a society."
Programs such as Nurse Family Partnership, Parent Child Home Program, Head Start, Early Intervention, BLAST and STARS rated childcares not only provide the quality early learning opportunities that children need, but they provide parents with resources to be their children's first and best teachers.
Now consider a different outcome for Susie, one brought about by enrolling in an early learning program. At 1, her mother is given parenting tips and has someone to answer her questions - she knows she's not alone.
By 2 years old, Susie is running and playing with her new friends at a curriculum-based daycare. At 3, she is at preschool, learning about dinosaurs and playing a counting game. By 4, Susie and her mom brush their teeth together every morning as she gets ready for preschool.
When she enters kindergarten at 5, Susie is rested, eager, confident and prepared. She is ready to learn.
Today, only 36 percent of Pennsylvania's children, birth to 5, are served in high quality settings. Those children not being served enter school unprepared for learning.
Studies show that up until third grade, children learn to read. After third grade, they read to learn. This means that if students do not master early literacy skills, they fall exponentially behind in other areas of course study.
If a child doesn't read well by age 8, his or her future academic performance will suffer, leading into a host of potential problems such as juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, dropping out of high school, never holding a job and spending the rest of his or her life in poverty. These things cost everyone dearly - the child, during the school age and adult life, and society, as we pay for social issues.
To learn more about early learning opportunities in Lycoming County, contact Jennifer Bolich, early childhood education cordinator, Lycoming County United Way, at 323-9448 or firstname.lastname@example.org.