On Saturday, April 5th, Blue Hill residents will have the opportunity to vote to provide the financial support for a public preschool program at the Consolidated School. Although three quarters of all children participate in preschool programs nationwide, many people are unsure about how to measure the cost and benefits, particularly of public preschool programs that are funded by taxpayer dollars.
According to the Maine Department of Education, there are currently more than 200 approved public preschool programs serving thousands of four year-old children, between 30-40 percent, throughout the state. Several neighboring schools already have preschool programs; Brooklin, Penobscot, and Castine offer public preschool programs in coordination with Kindergarten classes, while Sedgwick hosts the Peninsula Early Childhood Education Center in collaboration with Child and Family Opportunities (Head Start). Brooksville has offered a preschool program for twenty years, transitioning to a public preschool program five years ago.
Experienced Brooksville teacher Corinne Pert states, “We’ve had that program, which is three full days per week, transportation provided, meals available through school lunch, for five years. We use the standards of the Maine Early Childhood Learning Guidelines as a basis for curriculum. It is a great opportunity to introduce school as a place to love learning together as a community, and help children learn the skills they will need to fully access learning in the public school setting. I call us the Executive Functioning experts!” What are Executive Functions? In his new book, ‘How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character’, Paul Tough writes that recent research is focusing on Executive Functions, the ‘air traffic control center of the brain’. Executive Function qualities include creativity, perseverance, and perhaps most important, flexibility and self-control. Children need flexibility to think creatively to find new solutions to problems. Self-control helps them to regulate their emotional responses and behaviors, and to help them avoid making bad choices. Other researchers add the ability to direct attention (focus) as a key skill in the Executive Functions toolkit in our brains. It is now believed that Executive Functions are more important for school readiness than Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Della Martin, BHCS principal, agrees. “The BHCS program will holistically address the social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development of the children to prepare them for success in kindergarten and in their future school years. The greatest focus will be on the integration of developmentally appropriate play, discovery, music, early literacy and numeracy skills, and social skills.”
Recent research has shown that preschool education is a sound investment—academically, socially, and economically. Several studies provide comprehensive evidence that academic and other advantages from preschool education show economic benefits that far outweigh the costs of high-quality preschool programs. By fifth grade, students who received one year of high-quality public preschool were less likely to be held back or placed in special education, and, as they aged, had higher graduation rates and reduced arrest rates.
Contrary to popular belief, school readiness is not just a problem of the poor. Young middle-income children can also lag behind in social and cognitive skills. High-quality preschool has been found to benefit both low-income and middle-income children, and these added benefits could far exceed costs. Public preschool programs, like the one proposed at BHCS, are open to all children regardless of family income, and therefore benefit all children who attend.
Preschool works. But is it worth the cost? Studies of the savings from high-quality early learning demonstrate that the answer is yes. Graduates of such programs are less likely to commit crimes or rely on food stamps and cash assistance; they have greater lifetime earnings, creating increased tax revenue. Although the range of savings varies across studies, the studies consistently find robust returns to taxpayers.
Here’s what you can do! Attend the next Pre-K meeting on Monday, March 31st at the BHCS Library, educate yourself about these important issues, attend the Blue Hill Town Meeting on April 5th and support early education in your community.
Your Health Matters is a monthly health column by Healthy Peninsula and the Blue Hill Memorial Hospital. Sandra Phoenix is a family nurse practitioner, a member of the HP Advisory Board, and co-chair of the Early Childhood Initiative.