Public Notice – NC PreK Commitee and Smart Start Board Meetings

NC Pre-K Committee Meetings for fiscal year 2016-2017 are scheduled as follows and are held from 11:30 AM – 1 PM at the offices of Smart Start (93 North Broad Street, Suites D/E, Brevard, NC 28712):

September 22, 2016

March 23, 2017

May 25, 2017

Smart Start Board Meetings are scheduled on the fourth Thursday of each month from 8:30 AM – 10:00 AM at the offices of Smart Start (93 North Broad Street, Suites D/E, Brevard, NC 28712).

Transylvania County Receives $100,000 Grant for Early Childhood

The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina has awarded Smart Start of Transylvania County, in partnership with United Way of Transylvania County, a $100,000 grant over two years to benefit the county’s early childhood population.

“This generous grant has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of our county’s youngest citizens,” said Deborah Tibbetts, executive director of Smart Start of Transylvania County.

The two-year grant will enable Smart Start to recruit staff to implement the Smartly United Early Childhood Collective, a collaborative initiative between Smart Start and United Way that uses the resources of several community organizations. The aim of the collective is to provide increased accessibility, quality and affordability of early education to improve pre-K readiness.

“This grant will greatly increase the capacity to realize the goal our organization has set of having all children prepared to enter kindergarten,” said Steve Pulliam, chief executive officer of the United Way of Transylvania County.

Building on “The State of the Young Child”

The grant follows on the heels of an Early Childhood Initiative (ECI) by Transylvania County government to focus attention on early childhood development and school preparedness.

In 2015, a “State of the Young Child” report by the ECI, based on seven months of research, determined that 77 percent of Transylvania County children performed below kindergarten readiness standards.

That report spurred a concerted effort by the county and multiple social service providers and organizations to focus their attention on this deficit, resulting in a number of new programs.

For example, the Transylvania County Library helped sponsor a kindergarten readiness rally. The Transylvania County Parks & Recreation Department created structured playtime for small children and their parents. Transylvania County Schools made more pre-K classroom space available and created an enrichment program for 4r-year-olds from lower income families.

In the first year, the effort yielded a 12 percent improvement in kindergarten readiness.

“What’s gratifying about this improvement is that we did it all with existing resources,” said County Commissioner Page Lemel who, along with County Manager Jaime Laughter, spearheaded the ECI.

“We collaborated with other organizations, shared resources and shared ideas to create this outcome,” said Lemel.

Local officials are also working to effect change on childhood issues at the state level. Lemel participated in a panel with the Institute of Emerging Issues in February entitled, “Kidonomics: The Economics of Early Childhood Investment.” Additionally Lemel has reached out to a several state representatives and agencies.

“Our efforts don’t stop at the county line,” said Laughter. “We believe we have a role to play at the state level as advocates to shine the light on these issues and help shape how North Carolina’s early childhood services are organized and allocated. Ultimately, what we’re doing at the state level will benefit us here in Transylvania County.”

Facilitating Success

The Early Childhood Grant will allow Smart Start to hire a facilitator to help coordinate and enhance the services currently provided by the county’s many community partners and to establish a measurement system of early childhood profile indicators.

“We appreciate the Community Foundation’s faith in what we’re doing,” said Tibbetts. “They understand how important it is to have the human resources to make things happen.”

Additionally, United Way of Transylvania County has pledged $100,000 in matching contributions that will be used to help fund special projects of the Early Childhood Initiative as their mission develops.

Community leaders are hopeful that the Early Childhood Grant and United Way’s commitment will lead to even more significant improvements in kindergarten readiness.

“The awarding of this grant was particularly remarkable when considering the Smartly United Early Childhood Collective only formed in November of 2016,” said Pulliam. “We were able to organize, apply for and receive this grant in only four month’s time. Thanks go to all the members of the Early Childhood Initiative and the data from The State of the Young Child report that set the stage for that achievement.”

Investing in the Future

According to research, programs targeted toward the prenatal and preschool years provide a substantially greater return on investment in human capital than at any other age, with proven better outcomes in education, health, sociability, economic productivity, and reduced crime.

Today, there are approximately 1,500 children age 5 and younger who reside in Transylvania County. Of those children, 66 percent do not attend pre-school. Transylvania Regional Hospital reports that 49 pecent of mothers who accessed the birthing center in 2016 recorded a positive drug screen.

“Early childhood education is absolutely critical to the future of our county,” said Laughter. “Research has proven that quality early education reduces crime rates, teenage pregnancy and job training costs. More importantly, it gives our youngest citizens a much better chance to succeed in school, in work and in life.”

“It’s a community’s responsibility to give opportunities to the youngest and most vulnerable,” said Lemel. “We believe that the grant from The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, the organizational strength of Smart Start and the United Way, and the dedication of our many community partners will help Transylvania County become a leader in childhood development and a model that others can follow.”

The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina

The Community Foundation is a nonprofit serving eighteen counties in Western North Carolina. The Foundation is a permanent regional resource that facilitated $18.9 million in charitable giving last year. CFWNC inspires philanthropy and mobilizes resources to enrich lives and communities in Western North Carolina. More information can be found at www.cfwnc.org.

Smart Start of Transylvania County

Smart Start of Transylvania County is part of the North Carolina Partnership for Children, a nationally recognized and award-winning early childhood initiative designed to ensure that young children enter school healthy and ready to succeed. For more information, go to www.smartstarttransylvaniacounty.org

 The United Way of Transylvania County

United Way of Transylvania County serves as a community leader through resource development and resource allocation to commit Transylvania County residents to 1) help children and youth achieve their full academic potential 2) a healthy lifestyle and appropriate healthcare and 3) a financially stable household. To learn more, go to www.unitedwaytransylvania.org


Ready, Set, Go…Preschool To Kindergarten

An evening of dialogue among preschool and kindergarten teachers was held Monday, Feb. 22, at First United Methodist Church. Jointly sponsored by Smart Start of Transylvania County and The Family Place, the forum for discussion between the county’s preschool and kindergarten communities focused on the skills that young children need for success in kindergarten.

“What a wonderful opportunity for early childhood educators of Transylvania County to get together and strategize how to help each other and the county’s youngest students succeed,” said Sterling Woodruff, a New Adventure Learning Center preschool teacher.

The evening of conversation kicked off a Preschool to Kindergarten Readiness workshop series for preschool teachers.

The training idea arose after the Transylvania County Early Childhood Initiative Report cited Transylvania County Schools’ finding that 78 percent of children entering public kindergarten in the county are below the standard for kindergarten entry.

Anna McCall, preschool teacher at Brevard Davidson-River Presbyterian Preschool, was excited about the evening.

“Monday evening was an exciting opportunity to discuss with kindergarten teachers what we can do right now in our preschool classrooms to improve a child’s chance at kindergarten success,” said McCall. “We are all working towards the common goal of making the early learning years a time of positive growth and development and giving children in this county a strong foundation that will carry them through the rest of their educational career.”

Preschool to Kindergarten workshops will be held in the weeks following the kickoff.

Workshop presenters will be Nan Lee, early educator trainer, and Heather McCracken, N.C. Pre-K teacher.

The evening of conversation begins an informal dialogue that may positively impact school readiness. Tina Leopard of Mountain Sun Community School, observed, “I enjoyed meeting so many of the educators of our Brevard community. I discovered we all have similar challenges and successes educating our young children. I heard many expressing that while the academics are important, there is the desire to help the children grow in all aspects of their being.”

Kindergarten teachers talked about the skills children need upon kindergarten entry, including the ability to listen, have self-control, follow one and two step directions, getting along with others, and being familiar with books and stories. The emphasis was on the variety of experiences that help children become ready for learning literacy and math concepts in the school setting.

Preschool teachers and directors shared information and asked questions about facilitation of learning through play within the preschool setting.

Teachers of 3-and 4-year-old children are encouraged to register for the workshop series on the three consecutive Monday nights beginning today. Workshop registration is required through Smart Start of Transylvania County by calling (828) 877-3025.

The training is focused on supporting executive function, literacy and math concepts for preschool children.

Kindergarten teachers may also attend. Participants will receive training credit through DHHS/Division of Child Development. Training also counts toward B-K teacher license renewal credit.

Children’s Brains Are Built, Not Born

In December 2015, the county government released a report entitled “State of the Young Child in Transylvania County.” This report is a result of the months long collaborative work of the county administration, public agencies and private nonprofit organizations.

The members of the Preschool Task Force were in agreement that “children under five years of age depend completely on family and community to provide the right start and ensure that developmental milestones are being met.”

In the report, the participants arrived at the conclusion that “making sure that children have the right environment to learn and develop is not only an ethically sound practice, but it is also critical to the community’s economic development.”

This is supported by the studies of economists who are weighing in on the importance of children to the economy, such as, the research conducted by Art Rolnick and Rob Grune-wald of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank that found a 16 percent return on investment in early childhood education, with 80 percent of the benefit going to the general public.

Equally important though is the contention by Harvard University pediatrician Jack Shonkoff that “brains are built, not born.”

“What happens in children’s early years sets the foundation for all the years that follow. Child development is a dynamic, interactive process that is not predetermined. It occurs in the context of relationships, experiences and environments. Understanding this concept is ensuring that each child has the opportunity to realize his or her potential,” said Shonkoff.

“The brain is one of the only organs not fully developed at birth. Most of the cells are there, but the connections – the wiring that forms the architecture is not. These connections develop in early childhood. Every experience a baby has, forms a neural connection in the brain. These connections – called synapses – form very rapidly in the early years at a rate of 700 synapses per second, “ Schonkoff said.

According to Schonkoff, the synapses that form for vision and hearing peak at just four months, language at nine months, higher cognitive functions at one year. Experiences and environments determine which connections get used more and therefore strengthened. Those that are used less fade. A child’s interactions with the world determine how these connections (wiring) are formed, providing either a strong or weak foundation for all future health and learning.

In view of these findings, Transylvania County’s collaborative effort to promote an early environment for the development and life of each child is both timely and critical.

The best part of the story is that we now know what children need to build a strong foundation: good health, strong families and quality learning experiences.

Health in the earliest years lays the groundwork for a future well-being. Children that participated in a high-quality early learning program that included health screenings and nutritional components had better adult health and less chronic disease 30 years later.

Strong families are vital. Parents are a child’s first and best teacher. Supporting parents has significant benefits to children and families. For example, voluntary home visiting programs provided by qualified professionals to parents — prenatally and/or with young children – reduce health care costs, improve school readiness and success, reduce need for remedial education and increase family self-sufficiency.

Quality learning experiences that begin at birth and continue through third grade make all the difference. For example, Duke University researchers found that North Carolina third graders had higher reading and math scores and lower special education placements in counties that spent more money on Smart Start and More at Four – now NPreK – when those children were younger. The early years are so defining that by the time children turn eight, their third grade outcomes can predict future academic achievement and career success.

(Joe Castro, executive director of Smart Start of Transylvania.)

Early Childhood Education Is National Priority

As the nation gears up for the 2016 elections, findings from three recent polls highlight why state and national candidates need a strong platform that supports children and families.

Results from a new bipartisan poll released in October by the First Five Years Fund (FFYF), in partnership with the North CarolinaEarly Childhood Foundation (NCEF), found that voters of all parties share a top national priority: investing in early childhood education.

More than three-fourths of American voters support increasing federal investment to help states expand access to high-quality early childhood programs for low- and moderate-income families — 59 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Independents, and 94 percent of Democrats.

These results are particularly relevant in North Carolina, where only 35 percent of fourth graders and 22 percent of students from economically disadvantaged families scored at or above reading proficiency on the National Assessment of Edu-cational Progress (NAEP) in 2013. According to this study, grade-level reading is achievable when policies that reflect reading is a cumulative process, developing from birth and rooted in early brain development, are put into practice.

In Transylvania County, kindergarten readiness is tested during the third week of school to give teachers a snapshot of whether those building blocks are in place. Results of the testing at the beginning of the current school year, according to the soon to be released “State of the Child Report” authored by County Manager Jaime Laughter, show that 78 percent of kindergarteners tested below or far below proficiency with Brevard and Rosman Elementary Schools having the highest percentages of below or far below proficiency levels.

In August 2015, the Washington Post reported that the cost of child care is an economic burden for parents. “More than three-quarters of mothers and half of fathers in the United States say they have passed up work opportunities, switched jobs or quit to tend to their kids,” the Washington Post survey showed.

The responses underscore that finding affordable, high quality care that supports children’s development and parents’ ability to work is a universal issue affecting families at all income levels:

• Seventy-six percent of parents earning less than $50,000 a year said child care is very or somewhat expensive;

• Seventy-two percent of parents earning greater than $50,000 said the same;

• Fifty-four percent of parents earning less than $50,000 a year said that finding quality and affordable child care is very or somewhat difficult;

• Fifty percent of parents earning greater than $50,000 said the same.

If child care costs feel high to parents that is because they are. When it comes to child care affordability, North Carolina ranks as the 18th least affordable state, according to Child Care Aware America.

The Pew Research Center just released its study about how Americans are balancing family and work life.

The survey of 1,800 parents with children younger than 18 years old showed that more than half (56 percent) of all working parents say the balance is difficult to achieve. On family economics, among working mothers, 41 percent say that being a parent makes it harder to advance their career, and 20 percent of working fathers feel the same way.

These poll results show that early learning efforts are serving the needs of American families as a clear majority of voters agree that with families often needing two incomes to get by and many single parents working more than one job, access to quality early childhood education is a necessity, not a luxury.

“Support for early childhood education is strong — and growing stronger. This year’s FFYF poll results confirm that voters across the country see access to quality early childhood education as a necessity for today’s families, and critical to the future success of their children,” said Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund.

(Castro is the executive director of Smart Start of Transylvania County.)

NC Pre-K Children Outpace Expectations

Students who were enrolled in the NC Pre-K Program are making significant gains across all areas of learning through the end of kindergarten, according to a new report from scientists at UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG).

“Students made progress on most skills through kindergarten at an even greater rate than would be expected for normal developmental growth,” said Ellen Peisner-Feinberg, director of FPG’s National Pre-K and Early Learning Evaluation Center.

Peisner-Feinberg pointed to significant gains throughout this period in students’ language and literacy skills, math skills, general knowledge, and behavior.

“Although children made gains over the entire period from the beginning of pre-K through the end of kindergarten, there were differences in the amount of gains each year,” she said. “In pre-K, for instance, there was a relatively greater rate of growth on some measures of language and literacy skills, as well as on basic self-knowledge and social skills.”

Peisner-Feinberg leads the FPG team that has studied the NCPre-K Program and provided it with recommendations for more than a dozen years. Since the statewide program’s inception as “More at Four” in 2001, it has served over 292,000 at-risk 4 year-olds, helping to prepare them for kindergarten.

“Earlier studies have shown that at the end of third grade, children from low-income families who had attended pre-K had higher reading and math scores on the North Carolina end-of-grade test than similar children who had not attended the state’s program,” she said. The vast majority of the program’s students are from low-income families.

Prior evaluations of NCPre-K also revealed that children with lower levels of English proficiency made greater gains than their peers while in the program. Peisner-Feinberg’s new findings show that this continues to hold true through their first year of elementary school.

In 2013-2014, the NCPre-K Program served almost 30,000 children in nearly 2,000 classrooms, yet still maintained an average class size of only 16 children. According to Peisner-Feinberg, the majority of the NCPre-K sites achieved the highest five-star licensing level.

She also explained that an important and continuing trend in the NCPre-K program has been a steady improvement in the levels of teacher education and credentials. More teachers in the program than ever before hold B-K (birth-kindergarten) licen-ses, bachelor’s degrees, or higher degrees.

“Classroom practices were of higher quality when teachers had B-K licenses,” she added.

Peisner-Feinber said FPG’s history of bringing researched-based recommendations to NCPre-K has helped the program maintain its quality as it has grown.

“The state has examined the evaluation findings to ensure that all children are benefitting from NCPre-K and to consider areas where they might improve practices,” she said. “It’s been very positive from our perspective to see the program make such good use of our research.”

The NC Department of Health and Human Services houses the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) and reports the results of FPG’s evaluations to the state legislature each year.

Smart Start of Transylvania County is the contract administrator of the NCPre-K Program in Transylvania County and receives funding from DCDEE.

Over the past four years, Smart Start’s sub-contractors – Western Carolina Community Action and New Adventure Learning Center – had served some 220 at-risk, four-year-olds from Transylvania’s low-income families.

(Joe Castro, executive director of Smart Start of Transylvania.)