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The Power of Preschool — A Special Publication by The Good Beginnings Alliance

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For Our Children’s Sake

Good Beginnings Alliance, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to ensuring all children in Hawaii age 0-5 are safe, healthy and ready to succeed in life, is at the forefront of a campaign seeking an investment of $130 million annually from the state to support pre-K programs. Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Deborah Zysman, executive director of GBA, talk about the issues facing Hawaii parents and preschool-age keiki.

Q: Educators are recognizing the importance of providing kids some form of quality early education. Thirty-nine states already offer a state-funded pre-K program. Where does Hawaii stand on this issue?

Photo: Governor's office

Governor Abercrombie: According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, Hawaii is among 11 states with no state-funded prekindergarten program. As governor of Hawaii, I am determined to change that statistic and work with the state Legislature and the people of Hawaii to launch a statewide early learning program for 4-year-olds that takes full advantage of the formative year before they enter kindergarten. In June, we enacted legislation that established the Executive Office of Early Learning, and I appointed Terry Lock as the State Early Childhood Coordinator. I will be proposing a comprehensive early learning program, and it will be part of my appropriation request in the upcoming 2013 legislative session.

Photo: Office of Deborah Zysman

Deborah Zysman: In the 2014 school year, Junior Kindergarten, a program in the public schools for about 5,100 late-born 4-year-olds, is being eliminated. Those families will either be forced to spend thousands of dollars for another year of preschool or will not send their children to school. For the sake of our children and this community, that’s why it’s important that a meaningful preschool plan with funding be approved by the Legislature this session for a state-funded preschool program so that all 4-year-olds in Hawaii will have access. Our kids deserve the best start in life. 

Q: Keiki are exposed to numbers, letters and shapes in preschool. How important is it to their educational development that they also learn how to socialize, such as getting along with other kids, sharing and contributing to circle time?

Governor: Besides learning about numbers, letters and shapes in preschool, it is very important for children to be taught and practice social-emotional skills. Through modeling by adults and planned activities with their peers, they learn to recognize and regulate their emotions, establish and maintain positive friendships and resolve interpersonal conflicts. They begin to gain confidence in themselves. They begin to develop their character and values. These are valuable skills that will help children become competent and self-confident throughout their lives.

Zysman: We know that 85 percent of the brain is formed before age 5. Research is clear that children who attended preschool are more likely to succeed academically and socially – they’re better readers, they’re more likely to graduate and go to college and they’re less likely to get into trouble. When a child who has attended preschool goes to kindergarten, that child will be better prepared to learn, make friends and have an overall positive experience in school. So this question describes activities that will definitely help preschoolers become better students and better people overall.

Q: Studies indicate that children who attend high-quality preschool start kindergarten with better pre-reading and vocabulary skills and stronger basic math skills. How will this impact their future success as adults?

Governor: Absent this good start, the ability of our children to succeed is severely compromised. Studies have confirmed the positive, long-term effects of high-quality early learning programs on the future lives of young children in many areas other than academics: As adults, they not only attain higher levels of education but are healthier and less likely to become a homeless, crime and substance abuse statistic. Low family income is often an indicator of numerous risk factors that negatively impact a child’s development and learning. However, high-quality early learning programs can bridge achievement gaps frequently seen between these children and their higher-income peers by building foundational learning skills during the early years.

Zysman: The HighScope Perry Preschool Study followed a group of 3- to 4-year-olds to age 40. According to the study, adults at age 40 who attended preschool were more likely to earn more money, hold a job, commit fewer crimes and graduate from high school. We’re not saying that preschool is the panacea for all of the ills in our community but preschool is a key indicator of a successful future. Shouldn’t we give all of our 4-year-olds a chance at being a successful adult from the get-go? All kids should have that opportunity, not just families who can afford to pay for preschool.

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