The Secret to Success in School Starts Long Before Kindergarten Begins

When you hear that Arizona ranks in last place, or close to the bottom on so many measures of education, child wellbeing, or childhood poverty, how do you feel? Are you angry, frustrated, or perhaps resigned and jaded?

There is a proven cost effective way to do something to reverse that trend – high quality preschool. The best way to improve education is by making sure all children enter Kindergarten ready to learn and succeed!  Assuring that children know how to read by the time they are in third grade is better done by investing in early literacy programs before age five, as opposed to the remediation programs offered in elementary school.

It is time for us to create more opportunity and hope for children and families, and the most cost effective and impactful time to do so is during a child’s first five years. If we really invested in the first 2,000 days of life – roughly birth to age five -- we could create a future where all children enter kindergarten ready to learn and succeed...

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First Five Years Fund: NEW REPORT

The First Five Years Fund just released a new report that consolidates years of opinion research - national and state polling on where Americans stand on providing access to quality early education particularly for low-income families.  The bottom line is:  There is substantive bi-partisan support for investing in programs that provide quality early learning opportunities.

Quote, "...we [FFYF] and our partners have an evidence-based vision of where Americans stand on investing in high-quality ECE, and where policymakers can make stronger connections with their constituents’ priorities." Emphasis added 

Where there is a will there is a way.  Strong Start Tucson volunteers and supporters continue to work toward a brighter future for our community.  Please feel free to share this report with your friends, family and colleagues and stay tuned to this space for more updates. 


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Strong Start Tucson: What’s New?

Strong Start Tucson is alive and well. There is a role for everyone who wants to help.

It is not unusual for a game-changing, visionary, citizens' initiative like Strong Start Tucson—Prop 204 not to pass the first time around. Other communities have had to repeat their efforts as often as three times; they persisted and they and their children eventually won. We are persisting, too!

The defeat of Prop 204 at the polls in November was not the end of the road, but just a bend in the road. The road to change continues. Strong Start Tucson volunteers have been meeting with community leaders, education leaders, business leaders and public opinion leaders. Our listening tour began right after the November election and is continuing throughout the spring. The good news is that there is broad agreement that access to high quality early childhood education is vital for the future of our children, public education and our community.

The challenge is to design and identify funding for an early childhood education program that will garner support across all sectors of our community-- business and political leaders, early education experts, K-12 advocates, and citizens of all persuasions. There are lots of variables, and lots of ways a program could be designed, administered and funded, What is not up for debate is that whatever it looks like, the plan must a) include a sufficient number of children that the future of our community can measurably and substantively be enhanced; b) must support only high quality early education, because we know that only high quality early guarantees a meaningful return on investment; c) we must proceed quickly.

Here is something important you can do right away—MONDAY March 26.

Join a community forum on the future of public education in Tucson & Pima County, hosted by Tucson City Council Member Steve Kozachik and the Tucson Metropolitan Education Commission. Sarah Gassen, of the Arizona Daily Star, will moderate a panel discussion preceding the community conversation. In November, Sarah Gassen wrote in the Arizona Daily Star, “We must get to work. We must find a way to expand early childhood education opportunities so all families who want to send their young kids to a high-quality preschool can afford to do so.”  

Penelope Jacks, chair of Strong Start Tucson, will be on the panel along with other education experts. Catherine Tornbom of the Center for Community Dialogue, a program of Our Family Services, will lead all participants in a facilitated community conversation. She will prepare a report on expressed community priorities, that will be shared with the media, citizens, and leaders. The forum is an ideal opportunity and venue for YOU to participate and elevate the issue of access to high quality early childhood education.

Here are the event details:

6:00-8:00 PM
Randolph Golf Course, Copper Room
600 S Alvernon Way (Plenty of free parking)

See you Monday!

Want to come to the forum prepared with the facts about high quality early childhood education? Review the "Early Education Fundamentals—What we all agree on" fact sheet on our SST Home Page 

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NYC Makes Pubic Pre-K Universally Available

I recently read a New Yorker article (“The Lessons of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Universal Pre-K Initiative,” Rebecca Mead, Sept. 7, 2017) describing how Mayor de Blasio fulfilled his campaign promise to make public pre-K universally available to all four-year-olds in New York City. The scale of this initiative is nationally unprecedented, and it points to the recognition that high-quality preschool can have “long-term positive outcomes on children’s future academic and even post-academic lives.”

I couldn’t help but compare this with Tucson’s approach to expanding pre-school. On November 7, 2017, voters in the city of Tucson will consider Proposition 204, Strong Start Tucson, authorizing a half-cent sales tax to fund scholarships for 8000 3- and 4-year-olds to attend high-quality preschool programs.

In contrast to Mayor de Blasio’s initiative, Strong Start Tucson was initiated by educators and advocates for children and would channel funds to low-income families who may not be able to afford the cost of high-quality preschool. (In Pima County, the median cost is $7200.) Although universal access is a worthy goal, SST is a significant start. It will provide 8000 children with the funds to attend high-quality preschool. It will also help to alleviate the “unprecedented workforce crisis” that we are experiencing today by allowing parents to participate in the labor force. (See the report by the Center for Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Workforce of Today, Workforce of Tomorrow: The Business Case for High-Quality Childcare.)

Unlike Mayor de Blasio, our mayor has not made universal preschool a priority. In the absence of such leadership, Tucson voters must show that we support giving our preschoolers the opportunity they deserve—to start off in an environment that will nurture their academic learning, emotional well-being, and social/behavior skills.

Carol Weinstein, Ed.D.
Emerita Professor of Early Childhood/Elementary Education
Rutgers Graduate School of Education

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An Ounce of Prevention

On September 6, 2017, an article on the front page of the Arizona Daily Star broadcast the disappointing news that TUSD and Sunnyside students performed well below the state average on the AzMERIT, the state’s standardized test of English language arts (ELA) and math. Statewide, 39 percent of students passed the ELA portion of the test administered last spring, while 40 percent of students passed the math portion. For TUSD, the comparable figures were 28 and 29 percent respectively; in Sunnyside, which scored the lowest of any of Pima County’s nine major districts, the percentages were 23 and 27.   

Obviously, there are many possible reasons for these results (e.g., a high proportion of English language learners, a lack of resources, the possibility that curriculum is not aligned with the test).  But another significant factor may be the lack of access to high-quality preschool. Studies have shown that enrollment in high-quality pre-K programs can improve children’s early language, literacy, and mathematics skills, but only 16% of Tucson’s three- and four-year-olds attend high-quality early education. Those whose families cannot afford preschool may be lagging behind before they even start. And then remediation becomes necessary.

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Pediatricians say, Vote YES on prop 204

As pediatricians, we know about the importance of early childhood education on children’s academic achievement and health. Early brain and child development research demonstrates that high quality early childhood education confirms lasting positive effects such as greater school success, higher graduation rates, lower juvenile crime and other benefits. Children attending these programs have better math and language skills, interpersonal relationships and improved behavior. We see in our work every day the impact that this has on a child’s wellbeing.

We support Strong Start Tucson because it will provide many more children in the Tucson area with the high quality programs that have been found to be so effective. Let’s give our children the best start in life we can provide by voting YES.

Eve Shapiro MD, MPH                                                                
Gretchen Hull, MD, FAAP Vice President, AZ Chapter of the Arizona Academy of Pediatrics


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Ready for Kindergarten: Preschool as a Spring Board to Success

It hardly seems possible that we are in the midst of transitioning from preschool to kindergarten with our oldest child.  How did that curious little infant we had 5 and a half years ago move so quickly through toddlerhood and preschool?

Yet here we are with a rapidly approaching “first day of kindergarten” and a host of emotions that come along with that. We have the usual parents’ concerns: will the teacher will be a good fit for Maya? Will she easily make friends? Will the rigorous academic expectations of kindergarten overwhelm her? And then there is the excitement of shopping for school supplies, building new friendships, going on field trips, and most important, the continued love of learning new things.

Through this important transition in Maya’s life, there is one thing that provides me with confidence: her experience attending a high quality preschool... 


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Graduation, “crossing over” from preschool to kindergarten

A few weeks ago I attended my granddaughter’s graduation from preschool.  Parents, siblings, and grandparents chattered excitedly as the graduates entered the room and lined up on one side. The head teacher explained that the children were “crossing over” from preschool  to kindergarten, and so today, they would literally cross over a bridge—actually, a wooden rocking boat turned upside down.  As each child’s name was called, he or she walked to the bridge, walked over the bridge, hugged or shook hands with the head teacher, and sat down on the other side of the room. Their faces beamed, and cellphone cameras clicked...

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Something we can all agree on….Voters united around quality Early Childhood Education

I can often be a political junkie and stay very connected to the conversations in Washington. However this year it has been hard to stay connected and encouraged when everything seems so polarized and motivated by fear, hate and party success at the expense of what is good for America, and what is good for our children and families.

So I was happy to read some positive news – The First Five Years Fund’s 2017 national bipartisan poll found that all political parties agree on the importance of quality early childhood education and making it a priority... 

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Attending Preschool: It’s Not Just the Kids who Benefit

The Department of Health and Human Services says that child care costs should be about 7% of a family’s income. But a recent study at the University of New Hampshire shows that on average, poor families spend almost 20% of their income on child care. For some families, the cost is prohibitive. Mari Villaluna, for example, a 36-year-old career counselor, tutor, and single mother, put her monthly take-home pay, about $3000, on one side of a sheet of paper and then listed her monthly expenses on the other side. When she factored in the $2500 she expected to pay for child care, she realized that she’d be behind by $15 a month. No matter how she calculated, she concluded that she’d always be “in the negative,” so she dropped out of the work force and stayed home to care for her daughter.*

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