Every year, back-to-school time can be a period of great expectation and excitement for students, educators, and families, so when Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked me to join him on his sixth annual “Ready for Success” back-to-school bus tour, I jumped at the opportunity. The first stop on this five-day trek across seven states was the Woodland Early Learning Community School in Kansas City, Missouri. Located within a mile of five public housing developments, Woodland provides more than 300 3- and 4-year-old children, many of whom are from low-income or immigrant families, with high-quality early education. Woodland offers the kind of opportunities we want to see for every child: quality adult-child interaction; engaging environments with intentional playful learning; and a focus on the entire family. At Woodland, they don’t just enroll the child into the preschool program, they enroll the whole family.
Woodland recognizes that the health and wellbeing of the parent directly impacts the development of the child: the healthier the family, the healthier the child. To support children and families, Woodland uses a community school model and has co-located support services at the site. The Parents as Teachers (PAT) program, for example, helps families develop good parenting skills and connects parents and caregivers with critical resources. The more we assist families in addressing their day-to-day challenges, including supporting the child’s special needs, the better the chances of successful child participation in school, leading to improved outcomes.
Secretary Duncan and I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Head Start classroom of Barbara Fulbright, a skilled veteran teacher of 42 years. Mrs. Fulbright’s classroom was magical and full of joyful youngsters busy building block structures, exploring with writing instruments, and developing social skills through play-acting in the housekeeping center. They were so engaged in learning, I don’t think they even noticed us! Later that morning, Secretary Duncan announced the release of a new Policy Statement on the Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Early Childhood Programs from the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. The statement underscores the importance of making sure that all young children with disabilities receive access to inclusive, high-quality early childhood programs where they are provided with individualized and appropriate support in meeting high expectations.
— US Dept of Education (@usedgov) September 14, 2015
Children with disabilities and their families face significant barriers to accessing inclusive high-quality early childhood programs, like the programs at Woodland. Sadly, in many parts of our country, there is still a huge unmet need for high-quality preschool. And where there are programs, they often are not welcoming for children with disabilities. President Obama continues to call on Congress to renew our federal commitment to our youngest children and to the future of our country by partnering with states to provide high-quality preschool to every child in America regardless of race, ethnicity or national origin, zip code, wealth, first language, or disability.
All parents hope their child will start school ready for success. Unfortunately, not all parents can find the high-quality early learning program that is right for their child. Let’s all work together to make the opportunity of early learning a reality for every child in America.
Cecilia Muñoz is Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council