All children, regardless of family income, should have the opportunity to benefit from attending an early childhood education program.
That was the message from an event this week when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy visited the Susanna Wesley School in Shelton, a preschool where a privately funded local program pays for some children from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend.
“Every kid has that natural curiosity,” said Terry Jones, a well-known farmer in Shelton who also serves on the state Board of Education.
Jones helped start the Businesses Enriching Scholars Together (BEST) program with Susanna Wesley School director Roberta Cenci.
The BEST program now pays for seven Valley children to attend the preschool, located at the Huntington United Methodist Church on Walnut Tree Hill Road. Currently, 137 children attend the school.
‘The nonprofit Susanna Wesley School serves youngsters ages 2 to 5, and all the BEST-assisted children are 4 years old.
Providing early childhood education allows every child’s potential to be realized, Jones said, so “the light in their eyes” that one can see in every youngster can lead to a fruitful and productive life.
”It’s really taken a community,” Jones said of the role played by BEST.
‘A wonderful program’
Elisa Uhrynowski of Shelton, who teaches 3-year-olds at the Susanna Wesley School, said BEST was “a wonderful program that helps kids who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to have a good education at a young age. It’s good for our community.”
Debbie Redin, who teaches music and movement at Susanna Wesley, was thrilled to have the governor spend time at the preschool. She led a group of students in song, drumming and dancing during the visit.
“It says a lot for the school that he took the time to come here,” Redin said.
She said the BEST program benefits families by enabling their children to attend the program, and helps the school by increasing its diversity. “It’s a win-win,” Redin said.
‘We know it works’
During his visit, Malloy met with students, school faculty and business leaders. He went inside a few classrooms, watched students give a short musical presentation, interacted with teachers, and briefly met in private with people involved in supporting the BEST program.
“Too many kids in Connecticut don’t have access to early childhood education,” said Malloy, noting youngsters without such education have trouble catching up with their peers as they advance through the school system.
“They won’t perform as well as they might have the rest of their lives,” he said.
Malloy said Connecticut residents understand the importance of preschool in lifting up the lives of young people. “We know it works,” he said.
He said the ability to attend preschool shouldn’t be determined by a family’s socio-economic status or zip code.
While the state is doing more to fund preschool slots for children in need, especially in poor urban areas, it’s going to take partnerships with the private sector — and programs like BEST — to increase opportunity, Malloy said.
New state budget
The new state budget will fund 1,200 more preschool slots around the state, targeting the help to those with limited incomes, Malloy said.
The governor called this “a down payment” on what is needed, but noted that the growth in preschool slots is limited somewhat by the number of facilities that exist.
Andrew Doba, Malloy’s communication director, said 5,000 preschool slots will have been made available through state funding during the past four years.
Myra Jones-Taylor, who heads the state Office of Early Childhood, said she benefited from such opportunity when she was young, attending an excellent preschool on a scholarship when growing up in California.
Jones-Taylor said it’s important to intellectually stimulate a young child’s brain because 90% of the brain is fully developed by the time he or she enters kindergarten.