Looking through my childhood diary, a list my six year-old self had written citing my “top ten favorite things” caught me by surprise. Scattered among the names of pop singers, cute first-grade boys and ice cream flavors were the words “reading,” “learning,” and “school.” Having completed 13 years of school since writing this diary entry, I’d forgotten the unrivaled pleasure I derived from my education as a child. The fact that I chose to dedicate three coveted spots on my exclusive favorites list to my education reminded me of the indescribable comfort that school provided me growing up. Looking back, I must attribute my positive schooling experience to the foundation I received at preschool.
Though my memories of preschool are limited, I am instantly reminded of a welcoming environment full of positive interactions and infinite learning opportunities. I remember the girl who pushed me on the swing during recess, and the woman who allowed me to read “The Rainbow Fish” aloud to the class. These experiences and relationships undoubtedly prepared me to enter kindergarten as a confident and engaged student. I thrived in the classroom throughout my academic career, and, as made evident by my diary entry, looked forward to school each morning. This fall, I will begin my junior year at Duke University.
I was fortunate enough to have access to a high-quality preschool that ignited my passion for learning at a young age. But not all children are as lucky, with only 50 percent of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in preschool (http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/prekfactsheet.pdf). This percentage drops significantly when looking exclusively at low-income children. Additionally, there are major gaps in the quality of the early education options that are available. One national study found that just over one-third (35%) of four-year-olds attending preschool are receiving high-quality care.
President Obama has demonstrated a commitment to address these gaps with his plan to invest in high-quality early education. The President recognizes that prekindergarten programs are worthwhile investments that help give children a strong start and, as a result, reduce costs in special education, welfare support, and even incarceration. Early learning programs also enable parents to work and increase the likelihood that students will gain stable employment in the future. With a significant investment in early education, all children will have the same opportunity I had to gain an appreciation of learning, an affection for teachers, access to books, and the ability to form friendships with peers–all of which are integral to achieving success in school and in life.