Looking ahead: 2015 and beyond

6919539028_71c540da4e_zIn our last post summarizing the highlights of 2014, I shared a major decision that the board of the Permanent Fund made that will affect how we move forward over the next 10 years. In our decision to spend down our endowment and “put all our chips on the table,” our board is communicating a sense of urgency in our work. We strongly believe there is no time to waste as we work to transform Vermont’s early care and education system and give all Vermont children a solid start in life. As board member Tom MacLeay said in a previous post: “The greatest opportunity we have to improve our economy and our community in so many ways is in how we support and invest in our youngest citizens.”

The real gamble, if you will, is in not making these strategic early investments. Fasten your seatbelts, as you read what we’ve got on the plate for this year, you’ll see, it is: Full. Speed. Ahead.

VB3 and VCPC to merge: Continued emphasis on quality

To increase their efficiency and effectiveness, plans are underway to merge our Vermont Birth to Three (VB3) and the Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative initiatives. A new name and a more public announcement will be forthcoming, but those who have worked with either team can continue to expect an emphasis on the importance of high quality in early care and education. VB3 will continue to provide incentives, mentoring and training for child care professionals to gain credentials and achieve high quality ratings through many services. And VCPC will continue to provide technical assistance to school districts and child care providers as Vermont implements the universal preschool law. Both teams are committed to strengthening our network of home-based, center-based and school-based early care for all Vermont children from birth to five.

New partnership with the health care community

In an effort to align our work with that of the health care community, VB3 will partner with the Vermont Child Health Improvement Project (VCHIP) to improve early identification and response to potential developmental delays. Child care professionals are in a unique position to identify potential developmental issues in the children in their care. They see the children and families year-round, five days a week and have established trusting relationships with the families they serve. VCHIP will provide training to support registered and licensed child care professionals in using developmental screening within their programs.

Blue Ribbon Commission to study costs and affordabilityLGK_Logo_4c

Let’s Grow Kids has been working with many individuals and organizations in the early childhood community to clearly define high quality care—what it is and what it looks like. At the same time, they’ve been working to garner support for the formation of a Blue Ribbon Commission that would study the costs of providing high quality, affordable child care and research how to fund it in a sustainable manner. Affordability and quality are two key issues that we must tackle in our quest to develop an early care and education system that benefits all Vermont children.
(While on the theme of affordability, we’re also researching the potential of privately-funded scholarships for child care, including what has worked well in other states. Stay tuned for more on this.)

New tools for tracking early childhood data

We know that children who arrive in kindergarten “ready to learn” are much more likely to experience success later in life. The Kindergarten Readiness Survey is one tool for assessing whether or not our children are prepared for kindergarten. Unfortunately, the tool is not used in a uniform way by every Vermont teacher. That’s why we’re advocating for a credible, reliable, and universally-applied Kindergarten Readiness Survey and continuing to explore other viable measurement tools from birth to five so that we can measure a child’s progress before entering preschool.

New pilot projects in the works

You may have seen Burlington Mayor Weinberger’s February announcement about the launch of a pilot project in Burlington, which is designed to improve kindergarten readiness, reduce special education costs and other public spending and help break the cycle of multi-generational poverty in Vermont’s Queen City. We were happy to provide funding to support this exciting launch and it inspired us to explore the possibility of piloting a similar project in a rural Vermont community. The hope is that these pilots, while collecting good data, will demonstrate the benefits of strategic early investments, connecting high quality experiences to successful childhood outcomes.

Why babies matter to business

We travel around the state talking to CEOs and HR professionals about why babies—and quality childcare—are important to economic development and a company’s bottom line. Surveys have shown that businesses that offer child care as a benefit to their employees experience increased productivity. After all, when parents know their children are well cared for, they can focus on their jobs without worrying about how their children are spending their time. These children are also our future workers. Giving them a solid start in life through quality care and nurturing environments supports their healthy development socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively—skills that will help ensure their future success. This year, we plan to develop several models of business-supported child care and promote these concepts to Vermont businesses.

Recognizing the work of early educators

You may have heard that the Permanent Fund announced the Early Educator of the Year award, an annual award established to recognize the important work of early educators—our children’s first teachers—and educate Vermonters that education does indeed begin at birth. We received many nominations for outstanding home-based child care professionals—those that go above and beyond for our children. The nomination period for 2015 is now closed and nominees must submit an application by May 31 to be considered for the award. We plan to announce the top two individuals in October at the annual VAEYC conference.

This year is shaping up to be a busy one and we’re excited to see how everything unfolds. Be sure to subscribe to our blog to continue to receive our updates and be on the lookout for the next issue of our newsletter.

Nominations Open for the Permanent Fund’s Early Educator of the Year Award

infantEducation begins at birth. Many of you have heard me talk about the brain science and the latest research that tells us how crucial the first five years of a child’s life are. So why when we talk about education, do we tend to think about the public education system, K through 12?

It tells me that we still have much work to do to educate Vermonters that education does indeed begin at birth and that those professionals teaching our youngest children are doing very important work —which brings me to the reason for this blog post.

Recognizing the Work of Our Children’s First Teachers

I’m thrilled to announce the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children Early Educator of the Year Award. Through this award, we want to recognize the unsung heroes—the childcare professionals—who work so hard for our children. After all, besides parents, these individuals are a child’s first teacher. This award will honor an individual who has truly gone above and beyond to positively impact the lives of children and has been a valuable resource for families.

The top two finalists will be honored at the October 2015 VAEYC Conference in Killington, VT, where the top finalist will be announced as the Early Educator of the Year and will receive $5,000 and all expenses paid to attend the VAEYC Conference as well as one national conference. The second finalist will receive a $1,000 award and all expenses paid to attend the VAEYC Conference.

readingEarly Educator of the Year Eligibility

In this first year of the award, we are accepting nominations for an outstanding home-based childcare professional who has demonstrated a commitment to quality early childhood education. The award will alternate between honoring home-based and center-based programs each year.

To be eligible for this year’s award, a home-based childcare professional must have at least four stars in the Vermont STep Ahead Recognition System (STARS). Nominees must also have been providing care for at least three years, and must currently have infants and toddlers enrolled in their program.

Award Nomination and Review Process

Individuals may self-nominate or can be nominated by others. The nomination period is now open but will close on May 1, 2015. Those nominated will be notified and must complete and submit an application to the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children by May 31, 2015 to be considered for the award. Nomination forms are available here.

An award selection committee comprised of leaders in early education and child development will review all award applications and choose two finalists. Committee members are: Laurel Bongiorno (Champlain College); Sherry Carlson (Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative); Becky Gonyea (Vermont Birth to Three); Scott Johnson (Lamoille Family Center); and, Melissa Riegel-Garrett (Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children).

Nominate an Early Educator Today!

We hope that you—parents, folks from the early childhood community and others—will take time to consider the childcare professionals you know. Is there someone that stands out from the rest and truly exemplifies excellence in the teaching of young children? Nominate someone today!

 

The Access and Quality Gap in Vermont’s Child Care System

Most people agree that “choice” is a good thing. But when it comes to choosing a child care provider, many Vermont parents may not feel like they have much choice available to them. And that’s something we need to change.PreK_children2_mixed-large

In a rural state access to child care is a challenge

In a previous post, PF board member Jenny Williams shared her struggle to find quality child care when she moved to Vermont some years ago. It remains a struggle for many working parents today.

We know from our experience talking with parents that they tend to look for a provider they’ve heard about from friends or family, or is close to their home or convenient to their workplace. In many of Vermont’s small communities there may be only a handful of providers—some licensed, some not. Many of the higher quality providers have waiting lists or are simply unaffordable to families. (Did you realize that many working families spend from 27 to 33% of their total income to pay for child care?) So parents end up patching together child care options, trying to make it work for their family.

Early experiences build the foundation for life

In Vermont, 72% of our children under the age of 6 have both parents in the workforce. That means children may spend 40 hours per week or more in the care of someone else.
We know that during these earliest years the brain is developing most rapidly—forming 700 to 1000 neural connections a second. Never again will the brain undergo a period of such rapid development. These connections are building a foundation for cognitive and social-emotional skills that will serve a child for their lifetime. If we don’t provide the early experiences and environments to help our children build a firm foundation early in life, when the brain is most pliable, it’s much harder to do so later and we end up paying more as a society.

When we look at child care through this lens, providing every family with access to quality child care is an issue that affects us all.

Defining quality child care

What does quality look like? I offer these descriptions:

  • Trained, professional workforce. Child care providers should be well trained and fairly paid for the important job they are doing—they are, after all, our children’s first teachers after parents. They should have a deep understanding of child development. Quality programs and providers provide a responsive, nurturing environment that feeds the child’s developing brain.
  • Consistent standards and quality outcomes. Providers should follow consistent standards that set high expectations and promote different age-appropriate approaches to learning, social-emotional development and physical growth. Programs should be evaluated regularly to make sure they have implemented the practices that work.
  • Engaged families. Child care providers should serve as resources to the family, providing information on developmental milestones, linking families to resources in their community should they need them, and helping them implement positive experiences and home environments that will promote their child’s learning and development.

How do we get there?

Here in Vermont we’re working on many fronts to improve our early care and education system. Efforts to improve quality and access, strengthen and invest in the child care workforce and build stronger community networks are underway through initiatives including Vermont Birth to Three, STARS, the Vermont Community Preschool Collaborative, the Let’s Grow Kids campaign and the Race to the Top Grant work. We recently initiated community conversations around the state to jumpstart a dialogue about the importance of early childhood.

Still, there’s more to do. If you believe all Vermont children deserve a solid start in life, please get involved and join the discussion. Visit LetsGrowKids.org for more information and to sign the pledge.

The future is brighter for everyone, when our children our happy, healthy and well cared for.

Summertime and the Learning Never Stops

Summer has officially arrived in the Green Mountain State. The mosquitoes are buzzing. Gardens are growing. Children are wrapping up their busy school years. And, working parents have turned their attention to summer camps. Transitioning from the structure of preK and school to the less-structured summer schedule is a big change in the daily routine, especially for Vermont families with young children.

Learning begins at birth_Summer child in sprinklerPiecing together childcare, camps and other activities that don’t always correspond with a parent’s full-day work schedule can be a juggling act. And trying to find quality programs for children can be tough. But sometimes we need to look no further than our own backyard for quality experiences and learning opportunities.

Learning begins at birth

As I speak with people about the work of the Permanent Fund, I’ve noticed that the words “learning” and “education” can conjure up somewhat narrow definitions. Many people equate learning with cognitive skills like knowing the ABCs, colors, how to count to ten or tie shoes. And they usually connect education to the public schools—kindergarten and beyond.

But as I’ve written before, we know that learning and education begins the moment a newborn enters this world. The brain develops very rapidly in the first few years. And during this time, the child is not only building a foundation for future cognitive development, but also for social-emotional skills that will enable her to cope with life’s ups and downs.

These skills are developed through the interactions babies and toddlers have with their parents and other caregivers. The relationships that a child has during these early years are so important. Babies develop trust, empathy and self-esteem from positive relationships in their lives.

Serve and return interactions like talking, cooing and playing with babies provide the baby’s developing brain with the input they need and crave. They are forming 700 neural connections every second! Their brains are like little sponges working to soak up every experience and interaction to create the foundation for future learning and development. The quality of the environment that a child spends their time in can impact them greatly—positively or negatively. Children thrive when they have safe, stimulating places to play, grow and live.

Learning opportunities abound

While the older children are relishing in their new-found freedom from the academic demands of school, we know that learning never stops—even with the start of summer. So whatever the activities your summer includes, I hope it is filled with much fun, sunshine, laughter and learning with the children in your life!

photo credit CC via flickr: Matt Molinari

Early Childhood Research: A Roundup of Recent Favorites

For those of us interested in effecting positive change in systems for early care, health and education, there have been a wealth of research studies and reports released in recent months. Here are a few of those I found most valuable.

baby with alphabet blocks

Children, dollars and sense

Researchers at the Brookings Institution recently released a brief estimating the cost and benefits of a “sustained approach to intervention” that goes from birth through adolescence. Specifically, they focus on interventions at four stages of life: birth, early childhood, elementary school, and high school. Based on evidence of real large-scale programs that have demonstrated effectiveness, the researchers conclude that the benefits due to greater academic achievement and adult outcomes (e.g., income) would outweigh the costs of investing in such a sustained approach.

Child Care Aware just released its 2013 update of their cost of child care report, which includes state-by-state data on average child care cost for infants, 4-year-olds, and school-age children in both center-based and home-based settings. Child care continues to be one of the highest budget items for families, rivaling college costs in some cases.

Pre-Kindergarten

A team of researchers summarized decades of research on pre-kindergarten education in a recent paper from the Society for Research in Child Development and the Foundation for Child Development. The researchers concluded that large-scale, publicly-funded pre-k can produce both short- and long-term benefits. Key to getting such results include the quality of curricula and teacher-child interactions, the availability of effective coaches and mentors for pre-k teachers, the duration of services (number of hours and years) especially for low-income children, and strategic inclusion of family supports and comprehensive services. As part of the release of the paper, the New America Foundation organized a panel to discuss its findings and implications for policy.

The importance of the first eight years

The Alliance for Early Success, in collaboration with Child Trends, released a paper that lays out the research basis for focusing on the first eight years of life as a core strategy for improving outcomes for children and families. The publication identifies a number of research-based policy choices that state leaders can make in the areas of health, family support, and learning. It further lays out choices state policymakers can make regarding standards (for both children and services), screening and assessment, and accountability systems to promote effective program implementation. As a whole, this publication can help inform a comprehensive state strategy to build a strong foundation for success as children progresses from the early childhood to the early elementary years.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation also released a paper about the importance of the first eight years. The publication calls attention to data about the well-being of 3rd graders’ cognitive development, social-emotional development, engagement in school, and physical health, highlighting disparities among income and racial groups. It issues a call to action at both the federal and state levels in three areas: strengthening family supports; improving early care and education, K-3, health care, and other services; coordinating services for children from birth through age 8. Specific recommendations are offered under each of these three areas.