President's pre-K comments welcomed by educators

Feb. 13, 2013 @ 06:37 PM

One of the many subjects covered in Tuesday night's State of the Union address was expanding preschool education. 

"Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road," President Barack Obama said in his speech. "But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can't afford a few hundred bucks a week for a private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives."

Obama proposed working with the states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. 

"That's something we should be able to do," Obama said.

Sharon Little, program coordinator for the early childhood education program at South Piedmont Community College, said there are many benefits to early education.

"The benefits would be monumental," Little said. "Children who are engaged in quality pre-k centers become critical thinkers, problem solvers and contributors to society."

Children who attend quality prekindergarten are more likely to obtain a higher level of education, which yields a higher level of economic returns, Little added. 

Mary Ann Rasberry, executive director of Union Smart Start, agreed with the benefits of early education. 

"Univeral prekindergarten for at-risk four year olds would be a great thing," Rasberry said. "The more at-risk children we can serve, the better it will be for our future economy."

Children in prekindergarten classes learn pre-literacy skills, Little explained. She has seen children who leave prekindergarten knowing how to read. Some students are exposed to technology and are already comfortable with computers when they reach kindergarten.

"Pre-K provides much needed learning opportunities for the children," Little said. "(It is) a solid basis for a brighter future for all of us."

"It prepares children developmentally, socially and academically" for school and future success, she said.

Obama noted in the State of the Union Address that the investment would yield benefits.

"Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on–by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime," Obama said. "In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance."

Little said the investment would be worthwhile. 

"I'm really excited about the possibilities now that Pre-K is at the forefront and I'm excited about the opportunities that all of our children will have to have a level playing field when they come into the public schools," Little said. "It's one of the best investments that I feel can be made."