Updated Thu, Dec 13, 2012 6:16 pm
A group of more than 20 university students, educators and state education officials gathered inside a high school auditorium Wednesday night to discuss how to improve the critical first years of a child's education.
Jeremy Yehl, director of special services for Athens City Schools, led the forum at Athens High School with Deborah Cochran, an assistant professor at Ohio University's Patton College of Education.
Yehl and Cochran said they decided to host the forum in order to generate dialogue between parents and educators about early childhood education needs.
"[We wanted to] bring parents and professionals in, to have them talk about the barriers, how we can improve communications with parents, what their needs are, what their concerns are with early education," she said. "Then after that, [we want to] look at what types of follow up we need to do to address the issues parents brought up."
But while the organizers catered the event to community parents, all who attended had occupational ties to the education field.
Yehl kicked off the event by announcing a few changes to early childhood education at the state level, as a result of a federal grant that the state received from the "Race to the Top" initiative.
"They are basically revamping the whole assessment piece for preschool to kindergarten," Yehl said. "For childcare providers, there are going to be some new things that have to do with licensure that they are actually going to rate childcare providers once they receive public funds through [the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services]."
Four panelists shared their thoughts on the state of early childhood education, including Tiffany Rowland, an educator at the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery and mother of two, and Mary Costello, a retired Athens City School teacher.
Rowland expressed the need for further investment in funding for early childhood programs.
"Early education is the biggest bang for your buck in education. You make $8 on the opposite side for every $1 on this side, so it doesn't make any sense that this is where the cuts are happening," she said.
Costello echoed Rowland's sentiments.
"If every parent knew these services were available for birth to three, would there be enough funding to accommodate it? Probably not, and maybe that's why we don't know about it." Costello said, "I think we're setting up children for failure and when I hear funding gets cut for early childhood, I think we're just cutting off our own future."
Panelists also discussed the importance of a parent's role in a child's early years of education.
"We know that parents are their children's first teacher, and involvement of parents in the early years can have tremendous results in terms of children's outcome," Cochran said.
The discussion about a parent's role in a child's learning process carried on between the panelists and moderators throughout the entire forum.
"I grieve for that parent whose child is now five and lost out on three years. We know the child's brain is so easily moldable and shapeable, and so things that they wouldn't perceive as normal come normal to them because of their age," said Rowland.
Yehl admitted he was disappointed by the lack of parent involvement at the event, adding that the "turnout definitely could have been better" but that the discussion was far from over.
"The focus and the reality is that if you're not educated in this society now, you're going to be in trouble, and we've got to start helping some of these families break that cycle," he said.
A similar forum is tentatively being planned for the spring.