Group Seeks Support of Montgomery County Businesses To Advance Early Learning

Group Seeks Support of Montgomery County Businesses To Advance Early Learning

Officials say preparing children to be productive workers as adults starts in the early years

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Mike Chesser, who leads a task force on early education, addresses a symposium in Silver Spring.

Douglas Tallman

Montgomery County business leaders were asked to take part in an effort to improve early learning for local children at a symposium Thursday in Silver Spring.

About 75 people attended “Early Care and Education in Montgomery County: The Economic Imperative” at Discovery Communications, sponsored by Montgomery Moving Forward, which serves as the collective voice of county nonprofits.

The symposium drew County Executive Ike Leggett and Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith. County Council members Hans Riemer and Nancy Navarro talked about policy. Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard and county Economic Development Corp. CEO David Petr spoke as well.

The organization asked business leaders to contribute toward their goals by sponsoring gatherings where different aspects of early childhood education would be discussed, or by co-hosting awareness-building opportunities.

The next step for Moving Montgomery Forward would be to create a cohesive set of action steps within the next six months to a year, said Mike Knapp, a former council member and co-chair of Moving Montgomery Forward.

“We [county agencies] have a lot of different sets of activities without any cohesiveness. We don’t have that clear mission of what are we trying to get to. An activity like this can say, ‘This is our mission,’” Knapp said.

Pre-kindergarten is not offered at every county elementary school. Of 133 elementary schools, 109 have pre-K, which is offered to children based on family income, according to Gboyinde Onijala, an MCPS spokeswoman.

But Mike Chesser, CEO of ReadyNation, a business organization that advocates preparing children for education and work, said it’s important to look at the years of a child's life between birth and age 3 because that’s when the brain is developing.

Chesser, who lives in Annapolis and is a former BGE executive, was one of the speakers at Thursday’s symposium.

“Universal pre-K is one thing, but making sure there’s support and mentoring for parents of at-risk children is also important,” he said.

Other speakers connected the need to improve early education opportunities available to county children with their future success as productive members of the workforce.

Leggett said the county cannot look solely at early childhood in isolation.

“What we need to do is say, ‘There is a cause and effect between what we do today, the earliest part of our childhood, right on through the time we’re employed,’” Leggett said.

Chesser described how Kansas City businesses decided to make early learning a business issue. The city has an early learning commission.

He said people who understand the value of early learning have a kind of religious experience.

“Once you get it, you got it,” he said.

Chesser read a message from his daughter, a nurse practitioner at a clinic in Baltimore. His daughter said that as her own daughter was growing, other children seemed more advanced. But by the time her daughter was 4 and in pre-kindergarten, the child could write her name, knew 15 words by sight, and could do simple addition and subtraction.

The other children in her daughter’s class were behind in nearly every benchmark, and she wondered how they would catch up, Chesser said.

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