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A Renewed Commitment to Quality Early Childhood Education for the Roanoke Valley

Kim P. Gregory
Associate Professor and Program Head, Early Childhood Development
Virginia Western Community College


As the Program Head for the Early Childhood Development Program at Virginia Western Community College, every day I work with students who see themselves as makers of change in the lives of young children. They have a passion for children and truly understand that a strong early childhood foundation builds a capable and competent adult, one who is a positive contributor to society. I teach them that the early years matter, that it is our responsibility to provide children with a high quality early childhood experience, that it is crucial to later school success. Waiting until kindergarten is too late. We know that 85% of brain development happens before age 5. Research demonstrates that children enrolled in high quality early childhood education programs do better - they are more likely to complete higher levels of education, have higher earnings, be in better health and in stable relationships, and are less likely to commit a crime or be incarcerated. Isn’t it better to build preschools instead of prisons?

Early childhood development students frequently reflect on their own teaching practices, questioning and sometimes criticizing. They are learning, examining, applying, and thinking about how to meet the many needs of young children today. I reassure them, supporting their critical thinking and self reflection, sometimes quoting a former student, “if we knew better, we’d do better.” I work to teach them to “know better,” and to aspire to “do better.”

Every day, I teach students about best practices, high quality, and the importance of advocacy. Best practices in early childhood are rooted in methods that are proven to work: meeting children where they are, taking into account what we know and understand about how children develop and learn, and keeping in mind the social and cultural contexts in which our children live. What does that look like in a program? Qualified teachers with a background and understanding of child development, small group size and teacher/child ratios which support individual and peer interactions as well as appropriate supervision, age appropriate environments and equipment, meaningful and relevant learning experiences, safe and healthy environments, and a plan to partner with families. I also teach students about advocacy - the outcomes for young children impact us all. We all need quality early childhood education and we all need to step and do what it takes to make sure it’s available for every child.

As we respond to our current economic situation, it is important that we commit ourselves to investing in things that work. Quality early childhood education works. Studies have found that spending $1 today on early childhood can lead to savings of up to $17 down the line. We need the investment of our full community: businesses, schools, community organizations, and individuals. Virginia has taken many steps in recent years to support quality, including supporting regional kindergarten readiness collaborations. We are fortunate in Roanoke to participate in one of these initiatives. Smart Beginnings of Greater Roanoke is a collaboration of many organizations focusing on quality early childhood education in our community. As a group, we have joined forces to improve outcomes for our children. Members include the United Way, CHIP, Franklin County Schools, Roanoke County and City Preschool Programs, TAP Head Start, Blue Ridge PBS , the Council of Community Services, Greenvale School, Honey Tree Early Learning Centers, the Roanoke Chamber of Commerce, and Virginia Western Community College. As a grantee of the statewide Smart Beginnings Program, we provide monthly professional development workshops to local providers, home visits to first-time parents, parenting classes and workshops, and onsite coaching and support to selected local programs as part of the Quality Rating Improvement System for early childhood programs.

Please join us in our commitment to quality early childhood education for children across the Roanoke Valley. There is no doubt that the benefits far outweigh the costs. We know better, so let’s do better.

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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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