When Dr. Dana Suskind, a pediatric surgeon and expert in early childhood initiatives, visited Pensacola six years ago to talk about early brain development and parent engagement, she left us a challenge: to become America’s first Early Learning City.
Accepting the clarion call to that lofty goal is important, not only for parents of young children, but for everyone. From businesses to schools, the whole community will benefit.
Research shows the first three years of life are critical in giving kids the tools they need to succeed in school and life.
Based on early brain research and working with experts, the Studer Community Institute has created programs that encourage and educate parents on how to develop their baby’s brain from day one.
SCI has made good progress in many ways:
- An In-hospital program, which includes an eye-opening video, immediately gives new parents knowledge and resources.
- A text messaging service sends science-based tips twice a week to boost a child’s development.
- Family outreach sessions guide and empower parents in our community.
- Early learning sensory gardens provide educational play spaces.
- Other initiatives include a Sibling Brain Builders program in schools, books in barbershops, and early brain decals, alphabets and numbered steps at Wahoos stadium. It’s all aided by numerous partnerships with pediatric offices, agencies, and organizations who share our mission to help children and families.
Dr. Suskind is returning to Pensacola in June as part of CivicCon’s lecture series to increase civic IQ and bring best practices to our community.
As co-director of the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health, Dr. Suskind runs a research program at the University of Chicago that studies the effect of early language exposure on children under 3. She is also author of a new book, “Parent Nation: Unlocking Every Child’s Potential, Fulfilling Society’s Promise”.
Suskind will talk about how vital it is to invest early on in children and parents. Her presentation will start at 6 pm June 12 at the SCI atrium, 220 W. Garden St.
Her second visit fortuitously coincides with SCI’s renewed commitment to make Pensacola America’s FIRST Early Learning City.
It started as a vision, but now we are poised to make it a reality.
The key pieces of an Early Learning City are health care, schools, current resources, media, architecture, and environment. Each segment has a hand in building a culture of lifelong learning that supports early brain development, parent engagement and school readiness.
When each does its part toward the common purpose of giving each child the best chance to be ready for school, the quality of life in the community improves for:
- Birthing hospitals and pediatric offices that include early brain development in a child’s electronic health records.
- A voluntary prekindergarten system that has a common language around quality and supports the healthy development of young children and their families toward the goal of school readiness.
- A public school system that gets better prepared students and more engaged parents who understand why support at home is crucial to a child’s success. Those better prepared students should lead to higher high school graduation rates and better post-secondary attainment levels.
- Business owners who invest in their community and see employees who are parents become more productive and engaged because they feel their workplaces value their role as parents.
- Employers who have a better educated, more skilled workforce from which to hire.
- Residents who see their city improve through the benefits of a better educated workforce – lower crime rates, higher wages, better schools, reduced need for social services, lower criminal justice costs, and increased self-sufficiency and productivity among families.
An Early Learning City sees the link between the “built environment” – buildings, signs, public spaces, businesses – and brain development, taking steps to make every space a learning space.
A simple trip to the grocery store can become a learning experience. Every grocery store can put early education fliers in grocery bags at checkout.
Billboards, TV ads, and bus stops will become informational portals to reinforce the importance of reading, singing, and talking with babies.
During her first visit, Dr. Suskind explained that the road to an Early Learning City is long, and it takes a community that understands, cares about, and invests in early childhood to make it happen.
“It’s not a quick fix; this is for the long haul, ”she said. “A community that takes this on can not expect that this will happen in one election cycle. These changes do not occur in a two- or four-year period but they do occur. ”
SCI’s mission to improve the quality of life is a long-term process, one in which we won’t always see immediate results – but we must not get discouraged.
We will, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Go where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Only together can we create America’s first Early Learning City.
I hope you will come along with us.
Reggie Dogan is program manager for Studer Community Institute.