What do Oklahoma, New Jersey, Georgia, and Florida have in common? Universal preschool! Seattle may be next on this list. For the past year, I’ve served on the Seattle Pre-K program’s finance committee alongside early learning providers, policymakers, consultants, parents, and community members and have had an opportunity to design the Seattle Pre-K program. The end result will improve the availability, quality, and duration of preschool for 3,650-4,000 children by 2019.
At Denise Louie Education Center (DLEC), we prepare children for success in school and life starting with weekly home visits for children ages 0–3 and pre-school for 3–5 year olds throughout Seattle and in Sea-Tac. I’ve witnessed how children transform over the short time they are enrolled in our programs.
A preschooler in one of our classrooms, Ginny, refused to take her coat off or speak to anyone for several weeks. However, many months later, she was happy, talking, and fully engaged in the classroom.
In our Early Head Start program, two siblings did not speak and we considered referring them to see a speech therapist. After we taught their mother additional tools for interacting with her children, both siblings began to speak frequently and fluently, and are well on their way to developing a deeper love of learning.
Our teachers and home visitors win small victories like these daily. Each year, over 400 children in our program gain social skills, and literacy. They learn math, science, and how to persevere at challenging tasks. They learn to brush their teeth, take turns, work in a group, and follow simple directions. In addition, they learn English, and how to solve problems without hitting; essential skills for success in today’s classrooms.
Thanks to the commitment to early learning by our federal, state, local policy makers, and the voters of Seattle who approved the Families and Education Levy, our program is free for low income families.
However, last year, we had to turn away about 100 eligible children from our program due to lack of space. Without a quality early start, kindergarten teachers may spend months helping children learn classroom rules and how to solve problems.
Many children that lack access to high quality early learning program will start their first day of kindergarten without speaking a word of English or having the skills needed to navigate the classroom.
There are several initiatives being brought before the Seattle City Council with the goal of giving thousands of children more access to quality early learning. We owe it to our children to seize this opportunity and give them the best start possible.
Janice Deguchi is Executive Director of Denise Louie Education Center.