The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

September 3, 2013

United Way looks to aid early childhood, pre-K programs

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Early childhood and pre-kindergarten programs will benefit as part of the United Way of Enid and Northwest Oklahoma campaign this year.

And, United Way Executive Director Pamela Ballard believes the effort will be transformational.

“In addition to our 16 partner agencies, we have planned significant resources to be allocated for pre-K classrooms, in a partnership with Enid Public Schools and Parents as Teachers program through CDSA,” Ballard said.

One of the three focus areas of United Way this year is education. Ballard said every study shows early childhood education impacts third-grade reading levels, which directly correlate with graduation rates, she said. Graduation rates correspond to incarceration rates and lifetime learning levels, and both of those indicators impact the local economy.

Enid Public Schools Superintendent Shawn Hime has been advocating for the expansion of early childhood education and the pre-K program since arriving in Enid, Ballard said.

“Early childhood is a great equalizer in helping us prepare all children to become happy, productive citizens,” Hime said.

The United Way executive committee began discussions a few months ago about what could be done to end generational cycles of poverty, and Ballard said they began to look at the indicators and realized there was one place to start. Investing in young children and families gives them the ability to improve their lives and transform generations of those not yet born, she said.

“Our belief as it relates to this part of our campaign: Early Education. Strong Families. Bold Economy,” Ballard said.

A unique feature discovered about Enid is its strong sense of collaboration. United Way works with the Metro Commission, Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce, Enid Public Schools and Community Development Support Association, along with other institutions to help achieve the educational goals laid out in strategic community plans, she said.

 A 4-year-old from a lower-income environment hears on average about 30 million fewer words than a child from a higher-income home. That leads to a vocabulary gap, said Renee Hoover, of CDSA’s Parents as Teachers program. The same child enters kindergarten 12 to 14 months behind his or her peers from higher-income homes in language and pre-reading skills.

It is estimated that half of the achievement gap in grade 12 between poor and non-poor children existed in the first grade. Once the gap develops, it rarely closes, Hoover said.

“Because of our continued growing enrollment, it will allow us to ensure we can offer quality early childhood for all eligible Enid children. With our growth at 750 kindergartners this year, we will soon run out of space. We’re pushing those 4-year-olds out of schools,” Hime said. Hime said they are considering the addition of 10 classrooms in a new location.