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Guest view: Why early learning matters, deserves support

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The quality of an early education can influence the opportunities for a young child's success in school and life.

As an individual highly invested in early childhood education, I have witnessed the impact an instructionally rich learning environment can have on preschool students’ development. Research supports the view that high-quality preschool programs require resources and educational experiences that stimulate children’s curiosity and love of learning. A high-quality pre-K classroom – where teachers have access to materials and activities to support their interactions with children – helps to advance students’ cognitive, social and emotional skills.

The impact of the early learning environment is especially relevant for at-risk pre-school children. At home, many underserved children do not engage in the interactions - conversations and play - that help build vocabulary and the pathways that shape the brain’s ability to organize information. A Stanford University study showed income-based disparities in children’s vocabularies by 18 months of age. By 2 years, children from lower-income households fell six months behind children in higher-income homes with regard to how quickly they process language.

Though they face great odds to succeed, at-risk pre-K children are more likely to do well when they have access to quality resources. Recent research co-authored by Nobel laureate James Heckman shows that investing in quality early childhood programs can deliver a 13 percent per year return on investment - a net, long-term benefit of more than $700,000 for every disadvantaged child served. That benefit comes via reduced need for special education and grade repetition, higher wages, increased high school graduation rates and even reduced crime.

When classrooms have the resources they need, teachers are better equipped to inspire a lifelong love of learning. However, funding is always limited, and teachers across the country are reaching into their own pockets to purchase education materials that cash-strapped schools can’t provide.

A recent study by the National Head Start Association revealed that 88 percent of Head Start teachers spent up to $500 on school supplies out of their own pockets last year, and 10 percent spent more than $1,000. Many schools, especially those in low-income areas, just don’t have enough resources.

What if you could personally help our youngest children most in need and their teachers receive more classroom resources with a few mouse clicks?

To enhance early childhood education, PNC recently announced a $5 million grant to the online charity DonorsChoose.org. The new initiative helps teachers obtain additional classroom resources, such as books, art and school supplies, as well as field trips to child-friendly museums and other institutions.

Jim Hoehn
Jim Hoehn - ()

Now you can donate to help fulfill local pre-K teacher requests and PNC will match those project donations made within our service area, subject to some restrictions and a maximum dollar amount.

On the initiative’s first day, PNC fully funded $504,000 in projects that will help improve the learning environments in preschool classrooms throughout the 22 states and Washington, D.C. where PNC has a significant presence.

Our investment to help teachers build a foundation for high-quality learning was made as part of PNC Grow Up Great, a $350 million, bilingual multi-year school readiness initiative for children from birth to age 5. Through the program, we will continue to enrich early learning for the benefit of our youngest students.

As invested members of this community, I ask you to become advocates for quality early education. Given the return on investments in early childhood education, we encourage the governor and state legislators to invest as much as possible. Look for ways to enhance the resources for early learning in your local schools. In addition, I urge you to visit DonorsChoose.org and consider supporting a project in your local community.

The nature of the classroom experience can make a significant difference in the lives of Central Pennsylvania’s children. Let’s work together to ensure that they receive a quality education and the opportunity to achieve to the best of their ability.

Jim Hoehn is regional president in Central Pennsylvania for Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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