preschool

Research shows children who attend quality preschools even in the lowest socioeconomic areas can score as highly as their wealthier peers.

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

Build it and they will come? How about, they are already coming, so we better build it, and fast. That’s the thing about preschoolers. They’re everywhere.

And even though I don’t have one myself anymore, I know I’d better care about the quality of the education they’re getting and the life they’re living now. They’ll be the doctor looking after my own kids when they’re old.

They’ll be the patient, tech-savvy clerk at my grocery store helping me find the app for my coupons when I am over 90. And the inventor of devices that ease my final years.

They are the future leaders of this city, this nation, this planet. What happens to them now matters. As a former school principal, I was proud of the fact we were one of the first schools to have a preschool on our campus.

As a former CEO of a science education nonprofit, SARSEF, I was a witness to the disparities that occur between the haves and have-nots as I traveled to schools across our state. In both cases, it was clear. Early education matters.

And it matters for everyone.

The research shows children who attend quality preschools even in the lowest socioeconomic areas can score as highly as their counterparts in wealthier parts of town. The early start helps level the playing field.

But it isn’t just the lowest economic sector that needs preschools.

In order to make it these days, young couples must both work. They are barely making a dent in their education loans — let alone the dream of buying a house one day. And child care is not cheap.

Young professionals will tell you, finding quality child care they can afford is one of their biggest challenges.

And their own parents will secretly tell you what they won’t admit to their own kids — they’re tired. Nana and Tata are weary after their own lifetime of raising their own kids. It’s time they enjoy their grandkids as they should — supplementing care rather than providing it.

There has to be a better way. A place where children can go to be cared for, yes, but as importantly be given a fair start on life.

For girls, this means breaking stereotypes before they are formed. Research shows that even before the age of 5, children will identify jobs in STEM fields as “just for boys”.

For the children of busy parents, it means being read to daily, hearing a thousand words before they are age 3 or 4.

For students in areas of poverty, it means not giving up on high-paying opportunities before they even have a chance to consider them, because without exposure to other role models, they think those kinds of jobs are “not for them”.

When I was a principal in Sunnyside, I repeatedly said if I were to win the lottery, I would build free preschools throughout the district.

Now I’d wish to win enough to build them throughout the city. Because I’ve seen the difference playing in the sandbox with guidance makes in learning math and science concepts.

I’ve heard the importance of new words entering a child’s speaking vocabulary.

And I’ve felt the excitement when I realized the field biologist standing in front of me once stood knee-high next to me, examining ants on our preschool’s playground.

Kathleen Bethel is a retired principal, and former CEO of SARSEF — a nonprofit that is changing the world by creating the next generation of problems solvers through science, and a 2018 Public Voices Fellow with the OPED Project.