News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

The importance of early learning and care

I attended the Central Oregon Early Learning Conference held at COCC last month and came away excited, inspired, and full of hope. Hope in today’s societal atmosphere is often missing and it was invigorating to experience it.

What made me so hopeful was hearing information that can make a difference to many parents and children in Sisters, and throughout our state.

A recent development in the Oregon Department of Education is the organization of the new Early Learning and Care Division, headed up by Alyssa Chatterjee.

As a member of a panel on policy and advocacy she shared the recognition that just getting a kid to kindergarten is no longer considered enough.

This recognition on a state and local level will go a long way in bringing new dollars to fund professional development, facilities, teachers, and care providers to our region.

It also helps cement the idea that we need to invest in early learning just like we do in K – 12 programs.

We require training and credentials for public school teachers and administrators.

We need to do the same for early childhood professionals and parent educators whose role is to assure our youngest citizens get the best start possible.

No longer are preschool teachers considered babysitters.

They are true educators who know the difference their influence will make.

The same is true of parent educators who are teaching the first and most important teacher a child will ever have — their parents.

The words I heard from Ms. Chatterjee said, “Let us know what you need.” She was asking everyone to be an advocate for early childhood. That includes parents! Please, take her up on that request and let her and other policymakers know what is needed in Sisters. As another member of the panel, Laurie Danzuka, who is a parent advocate and a member of the School Board that serves Warm Springs, said, “Speak up for your child.”

Phil Chang, one of our county commissioners, was also on the panel and reiterated the same message. With federal dollars coming into our state, it is important that officials become aware of how acute the problem is that we are a “childcare desert.” He reminded us that not providing needed, quality care for young children cripples a society.

Tim Rusk, retired executive director of Mountain Star Relief Nursery, made the point of the importance of helping parents start out in the right place early on. As he said, “A week in the life of an infant is equivalent to a college degree for an adult. They are learning so much and so fast there is no time to waste.”

As I said earlier, I came away excited, inspired, and full of hope. At the bottom of all my emails there is the inscription that says, “Readiness to learn depends on starting early. Our children’s future depends on the parenting of today.” I came home ready to advocate for our youngest citizens and their parents. I hope you will too! There is much we can do if we just take the time and speak up.


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