Imagine a map containing every dirt, gravel and paved road in the U.S. Now imagine there are no intersections, as of yet; adding the connections is an ongoing project and the longer it gets put off, the harder it becomes. The visual picture is one scientists believe to be true of developing infant and toddler brains. It is also the Child Development Association's (CDA) motivation behind making sure every North Fulton child has a chance at a quality preschool education.
In a three-part video series titled "Three Core Concepts in Early Development," from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, scientists detail how genes provide the basic brain blueprint, but experiences largely determine the "quality of brain architecture." (See attached video) A foundation of learning in the preschool years is truely important to a person's academic, economic and civic achievement, according to the Harvard center.
So why is preschool one of the least funded areas of education?
That's a question many locals continue to wonder as they work hard toward ensuring the children of North Fulton's "working poor" get an excellent early childhood education at the CDA. Georgia consistently ranks toward the bottom of early childhood education funding, according to CDA Executive Director Donna Smythe.
Smythe related how the preschool calendar year had been cut by 20 days in recent years and how state funding for teachers was extremely low, despite the fact that the early childhood years are some of the most vital in developing brain circuits so more complex learning can go on later in life.
"These little one are making the brain connections now that will impact the rest of their lives," she said.
While North Fulton has plenty of good quality preschool education options, many of them price out lower income families. The CDA, which began in 1967, is making sure parents who want a good education for their one- to five-year-old child have an option they can afford. Over 140 children are served at the CDA each day. The center offers National Association for the Education of Young Children accredited learning programs for toddlers, as well as the Georgia Pre-K program for four-year-olds and Ready by Five. Early literacy, developmental screenings, outdoor recreational activities, wholesome nutrition and more are provided to students who are enrolled with CDA.
"This is the better alternative for families who would otherwise leave their child with a family member or neighbor to sit in front of the television all day," said CDA Board Member Sally Hansell.
The average income for a CDA family is $20,800. Tuition is based upon a sliding scale, costing the average family around $80 per week - that's approximately 20 percent of the average income.
"The amount they put toward enrollment is significant. I've seen these parents go above and beyond to ensure their child gets a good education," said Smythe.
Between student contribution, state monies and grants, the CDA still relies heavily on annual fundraisers - like the Down Home Derby - to ensure they're fully funded each year. It's an ongoing quest and one that doesn't look anywhere near slowing down.
In fact, the association has expanded its programs to include "Kids Express," a drop-in educational childcare service at the North Fulton Service Center in Sandy Springs, which allows parents to be at important center appointments while the kids learn via fun educational activities. The program will soon expand to South Fulton as well.
It's all a part of making sure all preschool age children, including those from trying economic backgrounds, are provided the highest quality education possible.
"These kids are worth it," Smythe said.
For more information or to find ways you can help the CDA, visit their website.