The early learning system is in crisis • St. Pete Catalyst

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The Kovid-19 pandemic not only caused economic and social disruption, but also exacerbated problems related to children’s early education and pushed the already vulnerable workforce into crisis.

Typically, the United States is known for its low funding in education. Many early-age teachers share the same challenges they face with their K-12 colleagues: poor compensation, overwork, and fatigue. In early childhood education, these issues are exacerbated because teaching and learning are very different compared to their K-12 counterparts. Young children have unique needs, and the responsibilities of early childhood educators often go beyond learning colors, shapes, and the alphabet.

Early childhood education refers to the period from birth to enrollment in kindergarten. With an 80% increase in brain development in the first three years of life, preschool is an important period in which children begin to learn how to communicate with others and develop the interests that will remain with them throughout their lives.

Without education and intentional communication with children 0-3 years of age, neurological growth, which is the basis for language acquisition, literacy, accounting, and the development of important executive skills, can be curtailed. This means that children are less likely to enter kindergarten at the same level as those with a solid foundation for early learning. This has a lasting effect, as research shows that children who participate in early childhood education programs are better prepared for school, especially in terms of educational development.

In May 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis signed two pieces of legislation into law, HB 419 and HB 7011. HB 419 ensures that students are assessed for kindergarten readiness while they are in Pre-K to identify difficult students and provide assistance. take extra. if necessary. HB 7011 has developed a nationwide monitoring program to track the progress of students in their educational careers from kindergarten to high school. Although this is great for student success, we still need to see change for teacher success and retention.

Compensation is at the center of a crisis that is affecting early childhood teachers. Low salaries and low incentives for primary school teachers have contributed to a record number of vacancies that were almost impossible to fill. The number of K-12 teacher vacancies across Florida is staggering. On January 10, 2022, compared to 2,368 on January 11, 2021, 4,359 teacher vacancies were announced, of which 485 vacancies are in Hillsborough County alone as of October 2021. Early childhood education systems have also had a significant impact. There are 550 vacancies in Pinellas County, and the number of children on the list has risen to more than 3,000 due to staff shortages.

In order to build a better system of primary education for children, teachers’ salaries need to be addressed. According to PreSchoolTeacher.org, the average salary for early childhood educators in the Tampa and St. Petersburg area is $ 24,910. To put it bluntly, the Poverty Guidelines for 2021 show that the minimum federal poverty line is $ 26,500 for a family of four and $ 17,420 for a family of two. Why would a person stay in a job that puts them in poverty while they could work in retail or fast food restaurants with more money and less stress? Wages below the poverty line do little to attract innovators and it cannot retain existing teachers.

Having quality caregivers is important in child care, but without paying a decent salary, the migration of teachers who are left in the field just for the love of their children and their love for education will not continue. There is no way to maintain a quality early childhood education without doing obvious work, giving teachers a living wage.

Thrive by Five Pinellas is a collective advocacy approach to ensure a fair, accessible, responsive and responsible childhood system that will “prepare” a percentage of children in our society for kindergarten. How can our children be “prepared” if there is no teacher to teach? We invest in what we value. If we value our children, we should value those who are committed to the most important years of their lives: the early childhood educator.

As we go through this pandemic and deal with staff shortages, we ask parents to keep in mind that a child’s first impact on learning begins at home. Parents can take small steps to help their child prepare for kindergarten, such as reading, arithmetic, social skills, and so on. Parents can also participate and work with their school as volunteers to fill the gap. Identify what your child needs from the school or care environment to volunteer, and take time to engage.

Dr. Bilan Joseph, Director of Thrive By Five Pinellas, is an influential collaborative network dedicated to creating, connecting and supporting community resources for the healthy development and readiness of kindergartens for children under 5 years of age. for the network.

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