Last week, a panel of experts gathered at the Community Broadcast Center to discuss what the future of the learning/education system should look like to be as effective as possible for the region’s children. The public forum tackled a range of questions from the audience, including the state of early childhood education.
Panelist Patrick Dowd, executive director of Allies for Children, said in recent years more attention has been paid to the importance of early childhood education, but added there are still too many children who don’t have access to pre-K programs. In addition to lack of access, another panelist said there is an opportunity gap among very young children.
“We have children who come to school who have no food,” said Olga Welch, dean of the School of Education at Duquesne University. “We have children who come out of homes where parents are struggling to make a living and to provide a roof, we have children who are homeless.”
Because so many children come from so many difference backgrounds, Welch said an effort must be made to ensure safe learning environments for children. She said access to quality pre-K must be thought of as a community-wide issue.
“Who has what kind of access, not just to the content, not just to the physical space, not even just to great teachers, but who is locked out because there really is an access gap, there really is a gap around wrap around services and mental health services,” Welch said.
Welch said overall the issue of investing in pre-K needs to be acted upon because a strong educational foundation has long-term impacts.
“Not just talk about it,” she said, “but put the kind of resources into it so that no child is locked out of that opportunity. And I think we can talk about it all we want, but what we do is we invest in what we care about. So if we care about our children we will invest straight through from the time they are little all the way up through high school.”
Dowd said that investment is needed, but easier said than done.
“One of the things we have to think about as a community and as a commonwealth is how are we going to actually make sure we provide the funding that’s necessary to make sure that all children actually have access to high-quality pre-K programming,” he said.
Other panelists included Linda Hippert, executive director for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit; Michelle King, teacher at the Environmental Charter School; and Wendell McConnaha, director of the Falk Laboratory School.
The panel discussion was part of 90.5 WESA’s Life of Learning, a three-year initiative exploring opportunities and challenges to improve the learning experience in our schools and through partnering organizations.