John L. Bissell and Caitlin Pemble: Support state initiative to assure universal pre-k

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PITTSFIELD — Did you attend a pre-kindergarten program? If you did, do you remember what you learned there? Do you recall making new friends? The smell of the crayons? The care and attention of adults who encouraged you to be curious about the world?

Almost universally, high-quality pre-k programs are agreed to have huge, positive impacts on children, families and communities. Attending a quality pre-k program helps kids prepare for kindergarten and also improves future employment and earnings, likelihood of owning a home and saving money as an adult while decreasing behavioral problems, arrests and crimes through the age of 40 when compared to kids who didn't attend.

Science shows that 90 percent of a child's brain development occurs by age five. It's no surprise that early childhood programs have high rates of return.

So why don't we invest more in these programs? We now have the chance to do just that.

Major cities across the United States offer universal preschool programs and two bills with our state House and Senate— H.2874 and S.240 — seek to expand support in key communities around the state.

The benefits of quality pre-k programs are true for all children and even more so for children who are born into poverty. The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center found both short- and long-term benefits of high-quality pre-k, particularly for families living in poverty. And in Pittsfield, 59.8 percent of kindergarten families are considered economically disadvantaged.

Preschool is a worthy but expensive investment for all families, which is why we believe universal access is critical for our community. Pittsfield is positioned to benefit from the proposed bills should they pass and we need to come together to advocate for their approval.



Piece of the puzzle

In 2012 Berkshire United Way formed the Pittsfield Promise community coalition to make certain our children are reading proficiently by third grade. It is widely recognized that children not reading proficiently by age nine are less likely than their peers to graduate from high school, as third grade is when we shift from learning to read to reading to learn. Through the coalition, community members from daycare providers to cultural organizations, healthcare providers and our public schools, work together advocating for our youngest citizens. Pre-k is a critical piece of the puzzle based on the research and the experiences we see locally.

Approximately 40 percent of our children locally arrive at kindergarten with no preschool experience. Strategies for Children and Pittsfield Promise are rallying for the state to support funding preschool expansion in Pittsfield through the currently proposed bills. The two bills both advocate for assistance in priority communities with greater numbers of high-need students and communities that have approved, ready plans to expand their quality pre-k offering. Pittsfield meets both these requirements.

Through Pittsfield Promise and other coalitions, Pittsfield providers in the early childhood space, businesses and others have come together to plan for expanded quality pre-k programs and professional development for our early childhood educators. Our education partners in MCLA and BCC have built out curriculum to train the new early childhood providers such an expansion may require.

The Pittsfield Preschool Expansion Program (PEG) will utilize a collaboration between the Pittsfield Public Schools and center-based early childhood programs in Pittsfield. Pittsfield Public Schools will be the fiduciary agent and lead partner. PEG is designed to serve up to 20 children per classroom, starting with two programs. The center-based programs will be named through a competitive bid process.

To apply, each program must meet the following criteria: National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accredited, Quality Rating Improvement Scale (QRIS) level 3 attained and Early Education and Care (EEC) license in good standing. They will share a program director and family engagement specialist. The shared leadership roles are designed to ensure communication and cooperation between the two programs and the Pittsfield Public School System. Data will be analyzed to provide reports on the program's success.

The value to children, families, and our schools is great. Classrooms located in a public school setting offer opportunities to build early relationships, trust, and give everyone a common understanding of what children need to thrive in school. Curriculum practices can be aligned and families can be engaged earlier on in their children's schooling.

Pittsfield Preschool Expansion Program is ready to go. Act now and get involved. Call your legislators to pass Acts H.2874 and S.240 focused on ensuring high quality early childhood programs and pre-k education.

John L. Bissell is president and chief executive officer of Greylock Federal Credit Union and co-founder of Pittsfield Promise. Caitlin Pemble is director, agency talent acquisition and development initiatives, Guardian Life Insurance Company of America and former co-chair of Pittsfield Promise.


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