Just good business sense

Retired Brig. Gen. John Douglass was in town the other week not so much to kick butt -- he was quite the congenial gentleman, really -- but to rally the troops: a friendly audience of about 100 Roanoke business leaders who've enlisted in the cause of early childhood development.

He has a way, though, of landing his message like a swift kick delivered smartly to the seat of the pants. Nurturing children's brains early, in their first five years of life, is a matter of national security. And Virginia -- like America -- is failing the readiness test.

Douglass is on the advisory council of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Mission: Readiness, a group of retired senior military officers alarmed by the small pool of young men and women qualified today to serve in the armed forces.

Mission: Readiness embraces the science that shows most human brain development occurs by age 5, and the research that indicates the quality of learning in those years plays a large role in determining people's success in school and life.

Douglass addressed a Smart Beginnings Greater Roanoke breakfast for business leaders April 7. Scott Hippert, president of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, also was among the speakers.

"A fundamental problem in the country," Hippert told the crowd, "is that while other countries are putting a lot of money into very young kids, we're putting a fraction of that in. As a result, we're not competitive.

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Early childhood education is critical to our community's future economic well being. It's a question of pay-now or pay-later. Research indicates that if children are prepared when they start school and reading on grade level in their early years, they're far more likely to stay on track and finish school rather than become a costly drain on the community's social service system. Those who finish school are much more likely to become contributing members of our workforce.

Joyce Waugh, CEcD
President, Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce

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The United Way of Roanoke Valley serves as the fiscal agent for Smart Beginnings Greater Roanoke.

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