Here is a piece by Robyn Tedder, who taught kindergarten as a Teach For America corps member in Metro Atlanta. She now works on TFA staff to support pre-k and kindergarten and teachers throughout the region.
By Robyn Tedder
On Tuesday, President Obama called the nation’s attention to the need for high-quality early education – highlighting the gap between the long-term success we envision for our kids, and the foundations we lay in their young lives.
For those of us in the world of early education, these words felt like a breath of fresh air – validation of the deep urgency and almost overwhelming opportunity we see in classrooms day in and day out. And here in Georgia, they made us proud to be named an exemplar – one of just a few states to have prioritized our youngest learners.
Today, the President visits Decatur’s College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center to see our commitment to pre-K in action. And as we wait to hear more about his vision for early education nationwide, here in Atlanta, we know that we must redouble our efforts, and that to charge ahead in this position of leadership, we must grapple with a set of complex, challenging questions.
First, how will we define “high-quality” early education for our students?
Second, how deep is our commitment to ensuring that this is available to every child, regardless of race or economic background?
And third, how will we shift our collective thinking such that the foundational skills of early childhood are regarded not as basic skills, but as life’s most critical?
I began teaching kindergarten in 2009 at Bolton Academy in Atlanta. Now, I work to support early childhood educators throughout the metro area as they seek to build classrooms that set their kids up for long-term success. If I were the President’s tour guide today, I’d want him to see not just the great work going on in these classrooms, but the tremendous spirit of partnership behind the early childhood work we’re seeing in Atlanta.
I’d want him to see, for example, how educators at Drew Charter School are putting research to work, capitalizing on findings from the Atlanta Speech School’s Rollins Center on the importance of language acquisition in academic, social, and cognitive development. Bridging theory and practice, teachers at Drew now lead classrooms in which language is the heartbeat – the soundtrack to which children do math problems, read stories, resolve conflicts, sing, play, grow and excel.
With the President’s words ringing in our ears, the time has come to recommit ourselves to this work in earnest – to learn from exemplars and share the research and resources to lay a strong foundation for lifelong learning for all our children.
Three- and 4-year-olds stand at a critical moment in their neurological, academic and socio-emotional development – one on which our shared economic and moral future depends. And as we stand at a critical moment of our own, for them, like us, there is no time like the present.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog