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A Word from the President

August 26, 2013

The Value of Early Childhood Education

Dennis W. Felty
Dennis W. Felty
President, KHS

Early childhood education is critical to children’s success later in life. Socioeconomic challenges and stress can have a negative effect on children’s brain development and, as a result, a gap in cognitive performance may develop that may be just as large in kindergarten as it is among high school graduates.

Capital Area Head Start (CAHS), a program of Keystone Human Services Children and Family Services, serves young children and families living at or below the poverty line. In 2012-2013, CAHS served 1,034 children and families in Dauphin, Cumberland, and Perry Counties, giving them a head start in life and prepare them for success in school. CAHS includes both Head Start and Early Head Start services, serving pregnant women and children ages 0-5.

Current research about brain development suggests that these early years are absolutely critical, and if early learning doesn’t take place, it may be impossible to make up the difference later in life.

The good news is that these adverse effects can be avoided if children and parents have access to early childhood education resources. Early childhood programs, like Capital Area Head Start, can greatly reduce the achievement gap. Programs like CAHS have been linked to a reduction in the need for special education, and an increase in the likelihood that children will grow up to lead healthy and productive lives.

CAHS does more than prepare young children for school. They impact the family dynamic. CAHS considers parents to be their children’s first and foremost teachers, and parents are encouraged to take an active role in their children’s growth and education. Parents themselves are supported and encouraged to continue their own education, find jobs, and become positive role models for their children. A stable, less stressful home life and parent involvement is the key to maintaining the gains children make.

There are countless stories of Head Start students who have become successful later in life. In a study, Penn State found that fifth-graders who attended the Harrisburg Preschool Program (run by CAHS) scored significantly higher on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) literacy and math tests than their peers who had not participated in the preschool program. Thirty-five percent of Harrisburg Preschool Program students were advanced or proficient in math versus only 19% of non-attendees. Likewise, 22% of students who attended the preschool were advanced or proficient in reading achievement, versus only 8% of non-attendees. Enrollment in preschool, particularly Capital Area Head Start, has long-term effects on children’s learning.

Recently, a high school student returned to CAHS as a volunteer, determined to give back for all the ways Capital Area Head Start had helped him.

Sequestration has had a negative impact on Head Start programs across the country, threatening the early development and future success of children. Despite these losses, CAHS considers itself lucky to be able to expand Early Head Start services to serve more pregnant women and children ages 0-3. This is the important age when the brain makes the largest leaps in development, and the right opportunities and access to resources set the stage for success later in life. Children enrolled in Early Head Start have grown in their social and emotional development, communication and language development, cognitive and thinking development, physical development, and literacy skills. They also learn the problem-solving skills that are so critical to our future leaders.

Early childhood education is important in helping children become effective adults and successful parents. It lays a foundation for living a meaningful life and contributing to the community.


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