Children can't wait

Posted: Friday, March 31, 2000

On the first day of kindergarden, a teacher can easily recognize which children have had the benefit of enriched, stable, nurturing care, and which have not.

Just imagine if the children facing the most challenges were put on a waiting list for kindergarten due to a lack of funds. What would be the impacts when they entered first grade along with their peers?

The impacts would be far less than the long-term consequences that face young children today who are currently on the waiting list for services in their earliest, most critical years. Only 20 years ago the state of Alaska mandated that all schools must provide a kindergarten program for five-year-olds. Now it is time to ask the question, ``Why five?'' How does a five-year-old deserve public support and recognition of their right to a safe school and qualified teacher, while many four-year-olds spend their days in whatever program his or her parents can find and afford to pay for.

If a kindergarten class changed teachers three times in a year, there would be an obvious effect on learning in the classroom. Yet, due to low wages, and lack of experience and training, many four-year-olds say hello and goodby to several teachers a year. It is time to clear the waiting lists for Child Care Assistance, Head Start, and the Infant Learning Programs, and to increase support to early childhood programs through the child care grant and licensing.

With each year we delay investing in children's most formative years, another generation pays the price.

Either more children graduate from high school ready for UAS or Yale, or more drop out to attend drug treatment and jail. These are all our children. They all deserve safe, nurturing care as infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers - whether their parents can afford it or not.

Joy Lyon



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