© 2019 Thad Williamson. Authorized and Paid For By Thad Williamson For Richmond City Council.

  • Thad Williamson

Fifty Fixes for the Fifth, #7: Invest in Early Learning (Dreams4RPS 1/3)

Fix #7. Invest in Early Learning (Dreams4RPS 1/3). (Part Two of Back to School Week!)

Our community, and our society, needs to invest more in early childhood education. When kids arrive at Kindergarten without basic foundations in place (as 1 in 4 Richmond kids now do), the risk of falling behind grade level at an early point and never catching up rises.

This is an issue I worked on intently as director of the Office of Community Wealth Building from 2014 to 2016. In our first year, we partnered with Richmond Public Library and Richmond Public Schools to launch the popular RVA Reads program in pre-Kindergarten centers throughout the City. That program is still going strong: last year, RVA Reads distributed over 10,000 books to pre-K children while also carrying out monthly readings of the book-of-the-month led by community volunteers in each pre-K center.

We also collaborated with RPS and partners like Smart Beginnings to land a three-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to develop a systemic analysis of Richmond’s early childhood landscape and to engage public housing residents on early childhood needs. That work is now being carried forward under the banner of the RVA Education Compact.

Certainly there are important, relatively inexpensive things the community can and should do to support parents of young children in Richmond. An important community-based model is the Boston Basics campaign which focuses on promoting five key parenting practices to support the learning and growth of very young children:

· Maximize love and manage stress

· Talk, sing, and point;

· Count, group, and compare;

· Explore through movement and play;

· Read and discuss stories.

A parallel group has been launched in Chesterfield County called RVA Basics; I strongly support bringing this community effort to scale here in the City of Richmond. All parents should have access to research-based information and support to help their children learn in their youngest years.

We also need to make good on a central recommendation of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant final report: to create a new office or unit within the City, likely based in Human Services, to take responsibility for coordinating and planning services impacting children aged 0-3. Right now, there’s no clear answer to the question “Who in the City of Richmond is responsible for fostering healthy child development for kids aged 0-3?”

The Children’s Cabinet of the Education Compact has been examining action options to remedy this situation and is expected to issue a recommendation this fall. If they recommend creating a new unit or office focused on this issue, I will enthusiastically support its inclusion in the FY 2021 budget if elected to City Council.

But deeper interventions—namely assuring that all kids have access to a quality preschool environment, and that we move to providing preschool for children aged 3—will require substantial investments. That’s why I’m particularly excited about Action 1.8 of Dreams4RPS, which envisions enrolling 60% of 3-year-olds in preschool by 2022-23. That process would start in 2020-21 with the enrollment of 20% of 3-year-olds, at a price tag of $4 million.

Whether through new state dollars or local funding, this is an investment we must begin to make as a community.

Coming Tomorrow: Fix #8. Support Our Teachers and Strengthen Classroom-Based Learning (Dreams4RPS 2/3)