Committing to our common future

Published 4:25 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2016

 

In April, caregivers, teachers and child-care directors spent a precious Saturday learning to foster learning through child-directed play from Dr. Lauren Wynne, an assistant professor in Longwood’s College of Education and Human Services.

It was one of the first of many such programs under the banner of Longwood’s new Early Childhood Development Initiative (ECDI). In the years to come, this program aspires to provide comprehensive support for the development of young children — and for those who provide such care — in our region.

Improving early childhood education is a moral and economic imperative. We know from surveys at Longwood and conversations with local employers that access to quality childcare is a major source of anxiety. We also know providing it is essential for attracting young families and businesses to move here.

Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman has demonstrated there is no more economically effective investment a region can make than early childhood education, which pays for itself many times over in a more productive workforce, and lower future costs associated with everything from crime to teen pregnancy.

So what will Longwood’s ECDI entail? One important element will be free learning experiences, like the one in April, for teachers, childcare providers and parents.

We will also expand academic programs to offer early childhood courses and degrees, sending enthusiastic teachers into this field with the expertise to succeed.

Finally, we plan to open an early childhood development center. The center will start small, but there will be slots reserved for the children of community members not affiliated with Longwood. We understand this is particularly important given our local history, and we want to be absolutely clear that we are committed to serving a diverse group of children and families reflective of our community.

We also want to be clear that our goal is not to crowd out existing providers. Quite the contrary, a principle mission is to support them and their employees, and help them thrive.

There is substantial unmet demand in our community, and every child deserves quality early learning experiences, whether those experiences are provided in the home, with extended family members, or in a childcare or school-based setting.

We see the ECDI as a bridge — between the university and the community, between local children and pre-service teachers, between childcare facilities and affordable professional learning opportunities.

Longwood’s key strategic goals include advancing community well-being and regional prosperity. This is an area where we have both real expertise and can make a difference.

If there is anything we can rally behind, it is our children. Longwood has been preparing educators for nearly two centuries. Adding a focus on teaching young children will benefit families, businesses, future teachers — and above all children.

If you are interested in learning more about the ECDI or plans for the Early Childhood Development Center, visit our website at http://longwood.edu/cehs/64837.htm.

Dr. Sara Miller is an assistant professor of education at Longwood University. She is the administrative director of the Early Childhood Development Initiative. Her email address is millerse@longwood.edu.