TN Legislators Get Back to Basics on Early Education

When a child shows up on the doorstep of a Tennessee school for the first time, there are many factors already at play that will influence how that child will perform. In Chattanooga, a diverse group of about 40 civic organizations have banded together in a community-wide campaign to raise awareness on early childhood development and make get children be school-ready on day one.

The Chattanooga Basics are five simple ways that families can help their children get off to the right start. The five approaches are designed to nurture growth of physical, social and emotional development for Chattanooga children so that they’re ready to be successful learners in kindergarten and beyond:

• Count, group and compare
• Read and discuss stories
• Talk, sing and point
• Explore through movement and play; and
• Maximize love and manage stress

“We’re focused on children ages zero to five by promoting a simple way for parents to interact with their children to develop cognitive growth,” said Dr. Jared Bigham, former executive director of Chattanooga 2.0, now with the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

Bigham showcased the Chattanooga Basics campaign in the February 21 Tennessee General Assembly Early Education Caucus (EEC) meeting that focused on school readiness.

Running what Bigham describes as a “saturation campaign,” Chattanooga 2.0’s outreach “started in the center of the urban core, going block to block, to barbershops, beauty salons, churches, business, health centers. It will keep going until we cover all of Hamilton County.”

The 40 civic stakeholders that include nonprofits, health providers, educators and business, began meeting every week. The campaign is visible everywhere – in print brochures, in videos available online and on mobile devices, and in organized outreach sessions with small and large groups of parents. They run a summer accelerated curriculum “Camp K” for kids who missed pre-k.

Our own TQEE Policy Director and early education expert, Lisa Wiltshire, says that this kind of awareness about development through an accessible program like “Five to Thrive” is crucial.

“The work that is happening with Chattanooga 2.0 is significant because they’re taking the definition of what it means for a child to be kindergarten ready and giving parents a list of things that they can do to prepare their child for success in school,” she says. “They have turned an elusive idea – readiness – into five easy – but important – steps parents, families, and caregivers can take to help children learn and grow.”

Senate Education Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), an EEC member, liked what she heard about Chattanooga Basics and indicated it could be a guide for other Tennessee communities. “This is the business of changing culture so that our children are successful in the long run,” she said. “We are beginning to see the enormity of what we are dealing with in our state. The long-term commitment for this is absolutely necessary.”

Two years ago, Chattanooga leaders began to study why the community’s high school and college grads were failing to meet the skill demands of area industry. The group conducted 3,600 interviews of local with teachers, parents, businesses and faith leaders to understand the problem. They observed a consistent student achievement deficiency throughout the learning continuum – that graduating high school students were not ready for college, that middle school schoolers were not ready for high school and elementary students were not ready for middle school.

“We found that the performance gap began in kindergarten,” Bigham said. “Children began behind and were caught in a constant cycle of catch up. Our approach is that we will get them ready for kindergarten so that they can remain on track.”

National data is clear: once students fall behind in third grade, they tend to stay behind or fall further in subsequent years. And unfortunately, the Chattanooga condition also mirrors TNReady assessment findings that most Tennessee students are not proficient in reading and math.

Reversing that trend has become a priority backed by state leaders in communities across Tennessee who recognize that improving early grade outcomes is the key to long-term learning success. Chattanooga’s ambitious outreach to win broader devotion to effective early development practices is a model that will produce results there and provide a model that other cities can follow.

We Took Our Case For Kids to the Hill!

We took our case for kids to the Hill.

Tennesseans for Quality Early Education (TQEE) conducted our first “Day on the Hill” in Nashville on Feb. 6. More than 100 TQEE advocates from across the state — teachers, early education program directors, parents, mayors, business people — directly engaged with Tennessee General Assembly members to advocate for:
• Excellent Pre-K
• Better support for early grades teachers
• High-quality affordable childcare
• Programs that support parents to help their young children succeed

Our advocates made the case that high quality early childhood development and education, birth through 3rd grade, is a proven, evidence-based solution for better overall education outcomes, workforce development and quality of life in Tennessee communities.

“It is a fact of life that to attract good paying jobs to our area, we must have a skilled workforce,” says Jimmy Harris, mayor of Madison County, one of about 50 Tennessee mayors who have formed a mayor’s coalition for early childhood education. “What many people don’t think about is that building those workforce skills starts with development early in life through learning to read, solving math problems and learning how to get along with others.”

The most exciting development of our day on the hill occurred when House Education Committee Chairman Mark White (R-Memphis) and Senate Education Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) announced the formation of the General Assembly Early Childhood Education Caucus, a joint House-Senate, bipartisan legislative group that will study and advance best policy practices to support the earliest years of learning. These legislators know the research that early math and literacy skills, as well as the ability to cooperate and get along with others, by kindergarten age are proven predictors of future academic and life success.

“Despite Tennessee’s improvements, proficiency rates still rank it in the bottom half of all states,” says Miles Burdine, president and CEO of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce. “Especially striking is that by third and fourth grades, our students are already significantly behind, with nearly two-thirds not proficient in English and math. We know that when students are not proficient by third grade, they are four times more likely to drop out of high school and 60 percent less likely to pursue a post-secondary degree. Once students fall behind in third grade, they tend to stay behind, or fall further.”

With many parents visiting the Hill, legislators found strong advocates for quality Pre-K as a featured policy within early childhood education. Our TQEE poll in September found that 93 percent of parents think voluntary Pre-K should be made available to all four-year-olds.

Kristen Griffin, a Lebanon schools parent whose daughter attended pre-k, voiced her support for Tennessee’s program. “My daughter would come home most days brimming with excitement about what new project they were working on, the new sounds and shapes she recognized and all the fun activities they had done to make learning fun,” Griffin wrote in a letter to Lebanon School District officials. “She went in a great kid but came out an even greater kid with more confidence than ever and a passion for learning in the classroom. Going into kindergarten this year, she is reading above average and is excelling in math. We couldn’t be happier with our pre-K experience.”

There are 300,000 kids under the age of six in Tennessee who have all available parents in the workforce. That’s a huge number, and by definition, they’re either in kindergarten, pre-K, a childcare setting, but somebody else is taking care of those children for a big portion of the day

And as it says in our name, our focus is quality. So, whether we’re talking about a childcare program, whether we’re talking about pre-K, or whether we’re talking about early grades in elementary school, we need to ensure that those children have the highest quality that we can provide, to ensure they have the early education foundation necessary to succeed in school and life.

From Mike, Lisa and the TQEE team

Oak Ridge Parents Say PreK Has Huge Impact, Should Be Available to All

Let’s face it, parenting can be difficult and getting a child prepared to attend school can be a challenge, even under perfect circumstances. For these Oak Ridge families, pre-K was a valuable advantage in getting their kids ready to be learners.

Within this group, impediments to speech and hearing compounded the usual challenges of early-years education.

For Jerry and Jerri Amonette’s daughter, it meant helping young Ciara overcome a hearing deficiency and learn to function with new implants.

“She was more silent,” Jerry says. “So, until the cochlear implants, she couldn’t follow what was going on when it came to playing and things with the other kids. So they encouraged a lot more interaction and was just really a good experience.”

A Vanderbilt study in 2015 confirmed what Tennessee Pre-K teachers had been seeing for years: Tennessee’s high quality Pre-K programs get children ready for kindergarten. Ciara, now in middle school, would eventually become a straight-A student just like James and John Brown.

Teresa Brown says her boys got the social skills necessary to succeed from their time in pre-K.

“They really were kind of attached to each other and that gave them the opportunity to actually have other friends and do other things, not just together, but to branch out and to learn separately,” Teresa says. “They made a lot of friends. The teacher was really, really good with them to the point where when she got married they came to her wedding and actually danced with her at her wedding.”

The curriculum built throughout their year, introducing the boys to everything from letters and colors to core concepts they would carry into Kindergarten.

“I still have the portfolio because they put so much together,” Teresa says. “They took pictures all year round so that you see the progress that the child did. You actually see where they were maybe not being able to do ABCs to the end that they were naturals at ABCs or they have accomplished their colors, or learned their address. And it makes a big difference. When you can see the progress at the end, you can see where your child began and where the child has learned and has elevated.”

Fabiola Macias and her family moved to Oak Ridge from Chicago to be near family. Her son Sergio, the challenge of learning English was compounded by the fact that he needed surgery to fix a birth defect on his tongue that threatened his speaking ability.

“It was just Spanish at home, and when he started preschool all the teachers were so worried about it and, willing to learn a few of the words for him,” Fabiola says. “After his surgery, he caught up on English like nobody else. He was just fine, and you know me trying to learn the language too, it was just like, they were so supportive of him and before he got to kindergarten he got the experience of, exposed to letters and sounds and all the colors and shapes.”

She says that Sergio’s older brother spent a couple of years playing catch-up with the language where Sergio was ready for kindergarten.

“The difference is that my oldest didn’t have the opportunity to be in a pre-K program. We had just moved to Tennessee and he was just in a kind of daycare-like program. So, it was not the same curriculum, it was mostly like a daycare,” Fabiola says. “Even the teachers in the parent-teacher conference told me they were afraid that he might fail kindergarten because, being bilingual and never being exposed to any other program, he was getting really behind.”

Like many areas, Oak Ridge has an application process for pre-K, and Fabiola wishes it were available to help more kids.

“It’s a shame that you have to qualify for it,” Fabiola says. “It would be awesome if everybody else has the same opportunity, not just because we have low income, or we have special needs. I wish all kids who want it could be able to be part of these kind of programs, because they have extremely huge impact on the kids when they move to kindergarten. In our case, my son needed surgery. By the first month of preschool, he was barely saying three full words in Spanish, and nothing in English. After the surgery, he was enrolled in the program and began to speak English (very easily).”

A TQEE poll in September found that 93 percent of parents think voluntary pre-K should be made available to all four-year-olds.

Wilson County Parents “Beyond Grateful” for Tennessee Pre-K

How does Pre-K impact the lives of the children and families that participate? A group of Wilson County parents recently wrote letters to Lebanon Special School District leaders with their enthusiastic description of how the experience has advanced their children’s development and prepared their children to succeed when they attend kindergarten.

“My kids attending her class drastically impacted every part of [our twins’] lives and it is even more evident now that they are in Kindergarten,” wrote one parent. “They are both in the top percentages in their class and in the advanced reading groups. We are beyond grateful that our children were able to attend Pre-K and the positive influence from Mrs. Mandy (Pittman) on their education is immeasurable.”

This Lebanon parent, in a note to the Castle Heights school, said that Pre-K helped children overcome the separation anxiety that can come from being a twin.

High quality early education has been repeatedly shown to help children, especially economically disadvantaged children, close skill gaps and become “kindergarten ready,” both academically and emotionally.

Kristen Griffin, whose daughter attends Coles Ferry, echoed this sentiment regarding her daughter, Raegan.

“Raegan would come home most days bragging with excitement about what new project they were working on, the new sounds and shapes she recognized and all the fun activities they had done to make learning fun,” Griffin wrote to Lebanon School District officials. “She went in a great kid but came out an even greater kid with more confidence than ever and a passion for learning in the classroom. Going into kindergarten this year, she is reading above average and is excelling in math. We couldn’t be happier with our pre-K experience.”

Dr. Penny Thompson is instructional coordinator and director of Pre-K for Lebanon Special School District. She’s thrilled with the accolades from parents as they affirm the district’s high quality early education program.

“This response speaks highly of our teachers and program,” Thompson said. “We have teachers working effectively with students and their families so that children are successful in their educational career. Our program supports teachers, students and families. That approach facilities the excellent education that these students are getting.”

A Vanderbilt study in 2015 confirmed what Tennessee Pre-K teachers had been seeing for years: children are better prepared for kindergarten by attending Pre-K, academically and emotionally.

“Before Pre-K, my daughter was not used to being around children her age,” wrote Alejandra Vega-Rojas. “Being in pre-K with children her age taught her how to express her feelings, sharing and caring for others. It taught her how to be more independent. Most importantly, it prepared her for Kindergarten. My daughter attending pre-K was such an important start for her education.”

Tennessee’s voluntary Pre-K program serves approximately 18,000 children — roughly 42 percent of disadvantaged four-year olds — a number which has remained stagnant since 2007-8, even as wait lists in some districts continue to grow. Parents understand the value. A TQEE poll in September found that 94 percent of parents think voluntary Pre-K should be made available to all four-year-olds.

Kelly Norton’s children have seen the benefits, too.

“I started working with him when he was three years old because it was recommended for him to attend a pre-K program. He was behind, developmentally, and his pediatrician thought pre-K would be the best course of action,” Norton wrote. “I could tell my son was making progress, but at some point, something just clicked with him. He started to communicate with everyone at home better. He would tell me what he wanted. He would tell me about his day. He would tell me about his classmates, he even went so far as asking to go to birthday parties and friends’ houses. I believe that my son being in the pre-K program has a lot to do with his progress.”

And now that her second is in the same program, she’s experiencing the same results.

“My daughter has been attending pre-K for three months now. Since she started, I have noticed her verbal skills getting better and her making friends. This was a big deal to me as she has always been very shy and timid,” Norton wrote. “I believe this program is a wonderful thing for young children. On an educational level, this is such a phenomenal program, as they do the testing to make sure kids are developmentally on track and then address any issues a student may have. This pre-K program is the best foundation for any child.”

Great Pre-k Teachers Turn Play Into Powerful Early Learning

About two minutes into a conversation with Lenoir City Schools teacher and Preschool Program Director Melody Hobbs, you start to realize how much she has invested in learning how preschoolers work.

“I love the four-year-old mind. I mean, it’s not three and it’s not five. Right?” Hobbs says with a laugh. “I mean, it’s just so … four. They’re naturally inquisitive, they’re curious and they want to learn more. It’s such an explosive time for child development. All those early years are, so I say that in the context of what is exploding when children are four, but they’re beginning to put ideas together in their play, in their writing. They are being able to think about things they’re reading about and living them out, and building relationships, problem solving. They have a wonder about the world around them.”

Hobbs has immersed herself in the four-year-old mind for almost a quarter of a century now. As part of a pioneering Lenoir City Schools program that began serving pre-K children in the early 1990s, she has seen first hand what works and what doesn’t. She knows that having the preschool program in the same building as the elementary helps kids transition into a school setting. She knows how it aligns the kids with the kindergarten program, even though it’s a different environment. And she knows that play can be a powerful gateway into learning.

“Of course, we all know that environmental print is everywhere around and kids are so susceptible to be able to quickly identify, ‘That’s McDonald’s and that’s Burger King and that’s a Wendy’s logo,’ right? I mean that’s all this kind of environmental print,” Hobbs says. “What we’re hoping to really establish with young children is that they have ideas that can be written down and that those ideas can be written down in a way that can be read by other people. Children need to practice scribbling or painting big strokes on an easel to get those muscles ready to write those letters or also to begin to make letter-like formations that are mock letters. That would be a next step. Then maybe scribble marks.

“I have one of these great artifacts that this child — and it’s like three scribble marks on a piece of paper, okay — he came to me and he was like, ‘Alright ma’am, I see you ordered a sausage and pepperoni pizza and you wanted it delivered to this house.’ In his play he was writing down an order and an address and then going back and reading it, right? So, all of those kinds of ideas. We know all of that needs to take place in order to establish a firm foundation for what we would consider conventional reading and writing.”

Through this play, he is building early literacy skills by representing letters, words and ideas in print. At this stage, it does not matter what the print looks like as much as the use of print in an appropriate activity. This is the first step to becoming a proficient writer.

Kindergarten teachers see the benefit. Whether it’s the social/emotional component or just kids being able to concentrate on what the teacher wants them to do, preschoolers are able to be more “settled in their surroundings,” Hobbs says.

When kindergarten teachers spend less time acclimating students to school, being in a group, and engaging in a classroom, they get to spend more time teaching valuable skills aligned to important learning standards.

“I think what we, as a whole preschool, really provide for kids is the curiosity and the wonder of learning, to be a learner and to wonder and to question and to think. We were hoping that preschool is providing kids with problem solving abilities, to think outside the box, to see from someone else’s lens. I mean, all of these are kind of soft-skill social-emotional skills that are so critical for 4-year-old children, but yet are really those learning dispositions that we hope children tend again to acquire.” We know that critical thinking and problem solving are essential skills not only for success in school but also in work and life. These carry children through on whatever path they choose.

And sometimes that means just expanding on the playground.

“Certainly environments do matter and teaching does matter, but back in the day we used to have this old saying called ‘follow the child’s lead.’ What that meant was, whatever the child was interested in I would follow it,” Hobbs says. “The kids came with their hands cupped, you know about 10 kids around that found this daddy-long-legs spider, ‘Look what we found!’ Well, we’re talking about environment. Okay, and we’re talking about how plants and trees and animals and insects and people and land forms all make up environment. ‘Look what we found in our environment,’ they were saying that. Oh this is lovely, now we’ve got some language that we’re using, right? A big word, environment. What is it? Why, it’s a spider! Yes, it is a spider. Let’s look at this spider. Let’s look at his body parts. Let’s look at how many legs he has, how many legs, what makes him a spider and how is a spider different then from other insects? So, that whole opportunity, in the moment, following children’s leads, that’s good teaching.”

Through this play, children are not only nurturing their inherent sense of curiosity – vital to all learning – they are mastering critical literacy and science standards. They are acquiring new vocabulary words and discovering the multiple phases of the biological life cycle. When children are able to develop these concepts through meaningful experiences they not only retain the knowledge longer, they are also able to apply it to multiple contexts and situations. That is how standards are mastered and extended!

When in doubt, follow the four-year-olds.

Thanks for showing us how, Melody!

Mike, Lisa and the TQEE team

Beyond ”Thank You”

We found this great article from PBS and thought you’d appreciate the useful tips and info – including how to make a gratitude jar!

According to the Harvard University Healthbeat, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

For young children, gratitude looks like consistently saying “thank you” to others, making thank you cards, and identifying things that make them feel thankful, such as a favorite toy or a visit from grandma.

Here are three quick and easy ideas on how to teach your young child to be thankful, and pave the way for their healthy, happy future!

  • Model Gratitude
  • Make a “Gratitude Jar”
  • Share “3 good things” Each Day

Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Lisa, Mike and the TQEE team

I did it!

Sometimes a picture says a lot.

Hunter is building a tower out of colored blocks with his mom and his friend Tevri at home. It’s a photo that was years in the making, in part because of his involvement in one of Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee’s most successful development programs.  The “I did it” badge he’s wearing reflects the confidence and accomplishment Hunter has experienced through his family’s participation in the program.

After she became pregnant, Hunter’s mother Tyne was referred by a friend to Healthy Families Tennessee, a home visiting program that provides weekly support for parents from pregnancy through when their child enters kindergarten. That’s how she met Tevri, a PCAT visitor.

“[Tevri] would just come once a week and she would go over where I should be at in my stage of pregnancy and just help me get ready for the baby,” Tyne says. “And then after Hunter was born, she would still come by on a weekly basis and teach me about his milestones.”

As Hunter got older, Tevri would mark his progress on everything from word acquisition to motor skills, often working with Hunter outside, drawing shapes with sidewalk chalk and mastering colors. The program provides what Tyne calls a “full spectrum,” helping her son master everything from letters and numbers, to recognizing emotions, to how to deal with them effectively.

Healthy Families is an evidence-based home visiting program (EBHV) that provides support during one of the most important periods in a child’s life, birth to age 5, when 80 percent of brain development occurs. Getting the right start is crucial, because healthy brain development is essential for later learning and health. Research on home visiting program shows it improves maternal, newborn and child health, reduces child maltreatment, improves parenting skills, improves school readiness.  And these programs are backed by compelling proof of a strong ROI: it gets returns of up to $5.70 in taxpayer savings for every $1 invested through reduction of costs for remedial education, child protection and criminal justice.

The program also gave Tyne and her spouse effective coping techniques, something she says she never learned growing up.

“We learned a lot of stuff as a family, but also my husband and I learned a lot as a couple,” she says. “The main focus was on being a healthy family as a whole, but it also helped me and my husband because, I’m sure you know, husbands and wives have stupid fights over stupid things.”

Hunter’s success in the program will lead to his graduation in December. Tyne says he’s currently on the letter “G” and in the advanced part of his daycare class, in part because of the leg up that Healthy Families Tennessee and Tevri gave him. As he approaches his fourth birthday, the Paw Patrol-obsessed Hunter even likes a little homework.

“It’s crazy, I know,” Tyne says. And then you begin to realize why he got the “I Did It” button in the photo.

The program has had such an impact that Tyne has even become an advocate for PCAT, speaking before the state legislature about her experiences.

“I actually highly suggest it to any of my friends that I know that are going to have a baby,” Tyne says. “I recommend it any time that I can because the benefits that we have received through Healthy Families have just been amazing, and I honestly, I don’t know where I would be at without the program.”

Today, Tennessee only supports programs like this in about half of our 95 counties.  We can do better!  Stay tuned for emails that let you know when and how to share your voice of support with our elected leaders!

By Mike, Lisa and the TQEE team

Congratulations Governor-elect Lee!

TQEE congratulates Bill Lee on his election victory and stands ready to work with the new governor and the Tennessee General Assembly to improve the state’s public education system.

“Throughout the campaign, Bill Lee expressed a commitment to prioritize education for the success of our citizens and communities, and we are excited to work with him to build a plan that starts with improved early learning outcomes,” said TQEE Executive Director Mike Carpenter. “With the majority of Tennessee’s students already behind in English and math by third grade, it’s clear we need to make some changes to what’s happening before then.”

“All Tennesseans want better education outcomes,” said Miles Burdine, president and chief executive officer of The Kingsport Chamber and TQEE board member. “They support a robust system of quality education for children from birth to third grade to build on reforms that are working, and to accelerate progress so that we can help all Tennessee kids get a smart start in life.”

Statewide support is mounting for stronger early education policy as a strategy for overall system improvement and student outcomes. Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) recently called for the formation of an early education caucus comprised of legislative house and senate members.  Last month, 27 West Tennessee county and municipal mayors announced formation of an early education coalition as a priority to improve education outcomes and workforce development.

TQEE, Tennessee’s leading early childhood education policy and advocacy organization, urges Gov.-elect Lee to adopt a more concentrated, comprehensive early education policy agenda that incorporates these priorities:

  • Engaged and empowered parents. We advocate for policies that engage and empower parents through evidence-based home visiting programs, parent-teacher partnerships in child care and elementary schools, and school-community partnerships that expand families’ access to local resources.
  • High-quality, affordable child care. High quality, affordable child care is critical to support the 300,000-plus Tennessee children under age 6 with working parents. Child care directly impacts current and future workforce development, as well as family economic stability. We back policies that set high standards for teaching, learning and outcomes, recruit and retain high-quality teachers, and anchor state reimbursement rates to actual cost of quality.
  • Excellent early grades teaching. To boost student outcomes in third grade and beyond, instruction from pre-K to third grade must be better aligned with best practices and how young children learn. We support improved instructional materials, investments in training for early grades teachers and principals, and expanded pre-k where quality is demonstrated in existing classrooms.
  • Stronger accountability and continuous improvement in early ed. Tennessee has limited statewide data on early learning from birth to second grade. To maximize investments in public education, Tennessee should commit to a birth-5 early learning data system, developmentally appropriate methods to measure and improve instructional effectiveness in pre-K to second grade, and better support for early grades teachers to use student data to improve learning outcomes.

Some of these policies are being applied in various Tennessee communities with increasingly positive results and should be expanded statewide in future years as part of a fundamental effort to improve overall student proficiency.

A recent statewide survey conducted by TQEE reveals that Tennesseans overwhelmingly support a new priority for early education. Key findings from the Sept. 12-16 survey include:

  • 92 percent of Tennesseans say that a quality educational experience from birth to third grade provides individuals with the necessary building blocks for all learning;
  • 94 percent want Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K program expanded as an option for all 4-year-olds; and
  • 93 percent support increased state funding in programs that could ensure all Tennessee children are proficient in math and reading by third grade.
  • 90 percent believe child care has a major impact on children’s kindergarten readiness, and policies to improve child care in the state has wide, bi-partisan support.
  • Nearly 70 percent say they would have a more favorable opinion of policymakers who support programs and policies to improve early education.

In recent weeks, leading state legislators have begun advocating for the formation of an early childhood education caucus to spur urgent action and advance evidence-based, high quality policies to strengthen early education programming.

27 Tennessee Mayors…and Growing…Join Early Childhood Coalition

Expressing concern that a majority of Tennessee third-graders are not proficient in reading and math, mayors from across rural West Tennessee have formed a coalition to support the advancement of early education.

“It is a fact of life that to attract good paying jobs to our area, we must have a skilled workforce. What many people don’t think about is that building those workforce skills starts with development early in life — through learning to read, solving math problems and learning how to get along with others.” — Madison County Mayor Jimmy Harris

The Jackson Sun last week featured a story on 27 rural West Tennessee mayors who have joined the Mayors’ Early Education Coalition supported by TQEE.   Here’s a link to the article.

The coalition calls for state policies that support initiatives like the Read to be Ready early literacy programs, more training and coaching for early grades (pre-k through 3rd grade) teachers, and improving quality and expanding Tennessee’s pre-k program.

West Tennessee area mayors presently part of the organization include:

  • Barry Hutcherson, Chester County
  • Benny McGuire, Obion County
  • Bill Rawls, Brownsville
  • Brent Greer, Henry County
  • Brett Lashlee, Benton County
  • Chris Young, Dyer County
  • Dale Kelley, City of Huntingdon
  • David Livingston, Haywood County
  • Eddie Bray, Henderson County
  • Jake Bynum, Weakley County
  • Jeff Griggs, City of Lexington
  • Jill Holland, City of McKenzie
  • Jimmy Harris, Madison County
  • Jimmy Sain, Hardeman County
  • John Carroll, Perry County
  • Jon Pavletic, City of Ripley
  • Joseph Butler, Carroll County
  • Julian McTizic, City of Bolivar
  • Kevin Davis, Hardin County
  • Larry Smith, McNairy County
  • Mike Creasy, Decatur County
  • Robert King, City of Henderson
  • Roger Pafford, City of Camden
  • Skip Taylor, Fayette County
  • Tim David Boaz, City of Parsons
  • Tom Witherspoon, Gibson County
  • Wes Ward, City of Linden

Thanks to all of you for supporting Tennessee’s youngest learners!

With gratitute,

Mike, Lisa and the TQEE team

24-7-365 Childcare Supports Families in 21st Century Work World

How do you support a child? The answer is a little different now than in 1872, the year a group of women from Chattanooga churches opened a food and clothing pantry for orphaned girls.

The Chambliss Center has seen its mission change from pantry to orphanage to shelter to group home and finally, today, to a unique round-the-clock childcare center. But at the heart of every change was that they could meet the needs of children and parents.

“We really cater to those families who need maybe nontraditional hours also to those families who couldn’t afford to pay a traditional market rate kind of childcare,” says Katie Harbison, vice president of the Chambliss Center for Children. “All of our fees are based on the family’s ability to pay. So, it’s not just for the parent, of course, it’s also for the child to make sure they’re getting the highest quality early childhood education possible.”

In 1969, the year the then-Children’s Home began offering 24-hour-a-day childcare, late-night might have meant a parent working a second shift manufacturing job. But today, Harbison says that it could mean any number of things, from odd hours to a job that stretches into the evenings.

“We have a lot of parents that just need, later into the evening. If you think about working retail — the mall closes at nine and so they’re able to pick up somebody by 10 o’clock,” Harbison says. “Or, waiting tables, you work the dinner shift and you might be open until midnight, or one, or two in the morning. So, you really limit your income options when you limit which jobs you can take, which is limited by what childcare hours you can get.”

Expanding options for parents means the potential for a better quality of life for the family. It might allow a parent who works a traditional nine-to-five job to then pick up some additional work after the first job ends. It could also mean taking a second shift job that pays more.

“Those kinds of things, when you allow parents to have those additional opportunities, you can potentially change their financial situation and the future of that family,” she says.

And at Chambliss, the kids can receive the same kind of care and programming at odd hours that a parent might expect from a traditional daycare situation — circle time, nap times, meal times and outdoor times. Each year, their licensed, highly rated program (Three Star, the highest given by the state) graduates almost 70 children to public kindergarten classes. In addition to educational supports, Chambliss also helps identify any developmental delays a child might have and nursing students provide health screenings.

Early intervention, Harbison says, is crucially important.

“It’s the difference in night and day,” she says. “If you can catch a delay in a child that’s eight months old instead eight years old you have changed that child’s school career, and potential work career, and the rest of their life. A lot of delay, the earlier you catch them, the quicker they can be dealt with and these kids can potential go into kindergarten without any sort of delay. I’m sure you all know the statistic that 80% of brain development happens by the age of three. And so, not only is that important to educate a child before three but it’s also important to find that delay before three so you can quickly fix it, and then the brain can develop normally for the rest of the child’s life.”

And while the center also provides some social services for parents, it’s the educational part that Harbison believes is key to these children’s lives.

“These are parents who have a lot going on and so time is not something that is plentiful,” she says. “So, we wanna make sure that the children coming from these homes are getting the highest quality early childhood education possible because we know that that education is what’s going to help them be on track for kindergarten, which is what is gonna potentially change their future and could take that family out of the cycle of poverty.”

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