Breckenridge child care questions: Studies show early education works for kids, communities
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Read the second installment here:
Editor’s note: This is the third and final installment in a series exploring the specifics and beneficiaries of the Breckenridge child care scholarship program in light of two ballot questions that both the town and Summit County government are looking to put before voters in November to fund early childhood education programs. Parts one and two can be found in Monday and Tuesday’s editions of the Summit Daily News and online at SummitDaily.com.
At 9 a.m. inside a classroom at Timberline Learning Center, two teachers seem to have done the impossible. Around a table at the front of the room, a handful of 3 and 4-year-olds are sharing, politely asking their classmates for permission for a turn with the utensil he or she is using as they play with multi-colored lumps of clay.
Their teacher, Katie Schmidt, who has a bachelor’s in psychology and is working on a master’s degree, gently turns playtime into an early science lesson, pressing the feet of various toy animals into the clay and having the children guess what kind of animal made the prints. After a few minutes, both teachers and eventually all the children in the room break into song, announcing that it is time for morning meeting.
The group assembles on a rug at the back of the classroom to discuss the concept of footprints and the animal prints they’ve spotted on their hikes. Then it’s down to the business of the day’s activity: The children will be making prints of their own feet.
Local experts in early childhood education as well as a number of studies say these early lessons, and the regular social skills the children develop through daily interaction with their peers, will have a positive impact on both their lives and their communities for decades to come.
The town of Breckenridge and Summit County government are both preparing to put tax initiatives in front of voters in November that will ask them to invest in that idea. Opponents of the tax proposals and associated child care assistance programs argue the initiatives would cost everyone for the benefit of only a few. But officials say dollars that help local families afford early childhood education are an investment in local kids that will be returned to the community as the children grow up.
Studies show that may, in fact, be the case.
The HighScope Perry Preschool Study, which followed over 40 years a group of children who received early childhood education and another group who didn’t, showed that those individuals who attended preschool were more likely to finish high school, earn higher incomes and commit fewer crimes than those who didn’t.
A separate but similar study called the Carolina Abecedarian Project, conducted in the 1970s, showed low-income kids who had access to early childhood education had higher cognitive test scores into their young adult years, had higher academic achievements in reading and math, were more likely to attend a four-year college and were older when their first child was born than the control group. The study also showed the mothers of the subjects who received early education were more likely to get to a higher level of education and employment status than those who didn’t.
“We know that quality early childhood opportunities make such a difference in children’s ability to be successful in school and in life,” Early Childhood Options (ECO) director Lucinda Burns said. “They’ll grow up to be better employees, more self-sufficient, all those things that are important to any (community).”
In Summit County, approximately 80 percent of parents with young children work at least one job, and need to utilize some kind of day care, according to data provided by Breckenridge officials. But Burns said the quality of care provided by the teachers in local child care centers is different from that of an untrained babysitter or family member.
Although they each take slightly different approaches, local centers like TLC focus on emotional, social, cognitive and motor skills development and provide children an opportunity to learn from teachers with high-level education often in fields related to early childhood development as well as from peers with whom they can interact on a daily basis. At TLC, children are exposed to a wide range of activities and learning opportunities outside the classroom as well, director Leslie Davis said.
“We do computer classes, dance classes, yoga classes,” she said. “Kids go to the Riverwalk Center for Imagination Express, the (Breckenridge) Recreation Center for swim lessons and rock climbing lessons. They use the community at large. They do a lot of hiking, visit museums through the historic society and go to the library for story hour.”
In classrooms like the one for 4 and 5-year-olds at Lake Dillon Preschool, children are allowed the freedom for self-directed learning as well, deciding which activities they want to spend their time doing. While some kids are playing with blocks, others are doing prints with paint and others are learning to make play dough under the supervision of their teachers.
“Our teachers are trained to look at each child as an individual,” Lake Dillon Preschool director Kathy McNutt said. “It’s not just one big group of 1-year-olds or 3-year-olds. They understand the developmental levels of each of these children.”
The education local children receive at local centers may translate to dollars back into the local economy as the grow older as well, according to some research.
The HighScope and other studies show that for every $1 in public funding invested in early childhood, $7-$8 can be eventually returned to society, because the children’s demand on other public services — including the criminal justice system, remedial education, grade repetition and special education — is reduced.
In Summit County, officials say there is a more immediate economic benefit of child care options: an available workforce and families who can remain in the community. Before scholarship programs were implemented in Breckenridge, needs surveys showed the county was losing one of every four workers because there weren’t enough child care available for the 80 percent of parents who were working in the community.
The town of Breckenridge will be asking voters for a property tax intended to generate $800,000 to continue a scholarship program to help families who live and/or work in the Upper Blue Basin cover child care tuition. The county government will likely present a countywide ballot question to continue the existing Right Start program.
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