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January 20, 2013
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Editorial: Early learning is essential for school success

Our young children need your help.

Each of us needs to help grow kids so they are ready for kindergarten.

Don’t have young children of your own? Then maybe you have grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or you’re interested in volunteering to work with young children.

However you’re able to help, you could radically change a child’s life.

Research has shown that early children education is crucial to developing good students who will graduate from high school. If Oregon is going to improve on its 67 percent high school graduation rate, an emphasis on early learning is essential.

Early learning is as simple as reading to children at an early age, teaching them the alphabet and how to write their names, and working with them on sitting still and interacting pleasantly with other children.

If all children come to kindergarten with those skills, teachers are able to move forward immediately rather than taking time to build that foundation with the students who showed up unprepared.

The Yoncalla School District acknowledged a lack of school readiness among its students a few years ago and decided to do something about it.

Now it’s the first rural school district in Oregon to participate in a three-year project called the Early Works Initiative. The Ford Family Foundation awarded the district a $60,000 grant to add to the $15,000 the district set aside to fund the program.

The district is trying to understand what Yoncalla families need to better prepare their children for school.

The Yoncalla Library has already become a partner with the district. In addition to story times and reading programs, the library offered a highly successful family literacy night last fall. In addition, the district has leased a classroom to a private preschool and hosted parenting classes.

But that doesn’t appear to be enough.

Part of the Early Works Initiative is to reach out to parents as early as possible and survey their needs.

Yoncalla Schools Superintendent George Murdock said he knows low-income families, of which there are many in Yoncalla, are often more concerned with basic needs like feeding, housing and clothing their children.

That means if the district wants parents to attend parenting classes where they learn the importance of preparing their children for kindergarten, the district may need to offer a meal and child care. Or school officials may need to figure out how to fund a preschool, or ensure that the preschool serves free meals.

The grant gives the district three years to discover the best approaches while figuring out which community partners can help keep successful programs continuing into the future.

Yoncalla could then become a model for other school districts across the county and state that want to encourage early learning.

Ensuring our children are ready for kindergarten is a goal we can all get behind. It’s vital if we want to develop educated and productive leaders who will guide us into the future.

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The News-Review Updated Jan 20, 2013 12:04AM Published Jan 20, 2013 12:04AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.