ALEXANDRIA,VA- High quality, pre-kindergarten education makes a life-long difference for Alexandria’s children, families, and community. Researchers followed people who received pre-K education in the 1960’s and 1970’s to determine whether it made a difference into adulthood, and the results were dramatic. The adults from disadvantaged backgrounds who received pre-K education when they were tiny children were more likely to graduate from high school, earn higher wages as adults, and require less public resources Throughout their lives. The financial return on investment as a result of increased tax revenue and public resource savings for communities was also dramatic at more than $12 for every $1 spent.
Most good pre-kindergarten programs teach children important skills they need to succeed in school and in life. They learn the basics—numbers, letters, letter sounds, and how to use their senses to learn about the world around them. They also get opportunities to explore their creativity with art, music, and stories. Social skills like sharing, waiting their turn, and being respectful to others teaches children how to interact in a classroom. For children from less affluent backgrounds, these skills mitigate the effects of income inequality that would otherwise leave them unprepared for school.
One early education program in Alexandria is The Child and Family Network Centers (CFNC), a high-quality pre-K program celebrating its 35th year serving not only children but families in the community. In 2018, of the 138 students attending CFNC, 132 met or exceeded the kindergarten readiness standard. Remarkably, these children came from 19 different countries and spoke seven languages before entering the CFNC curriculum. The six children who did not meet the standard for kindergarten readiness either joined the program late in the school year or were referred for special education interventions.
When working with hard-working, but disadvantaged families, pre-K educational support goes beyond the student. Lisa Carter, the Executive Director of CFNC explained, “We provide early education to income-qualified families in their own neighborhood in classrooms in the West End and in Arlandria. It’s a holistic approach providing services for the whole child as well as the parents.” These services include bilingual social workers who work with the families to improve parenting skills and address possible developmental delays. In 2018, these social workers helped families meet 390 of their goals including finding better housing and securing insurance for their families.
Several of CFNC’s current staff were once students themselves. One of those staff members is Sulma Cisneros who is now CFNC’s Development and Outreach Assistant. She said, “I know my experiences at CFNC’s preschool helped me to develop a life-long love of learning. When I left CFNC, I went on to graduate high school and George Mason University.”
The cost of each student’s pre-K education is about $12,000 per year, and the program is funded through a combination of donor funds and grants from the Virginia Preschool Initiativeand the City of Alexandria. Because of generous support, CFNC’s programs are offered at no cost to the families it serves.
One mother who chose to send her daughter to CFNC highlighted the success of her other two children who graduated from the program, “They had excelled so well in school, and they still are excelling…it really encouraged me and my husband to continue sending our children to CFNC.” Another parent mentioned the visible changes in her son, “CFNC is preparing my child for the future because they are giving him the tools that he needs to balance not only his emotions but also school, you know the sleeping, and everything. So, they’re getting him out of the stage of being a little kid and into the kindergarten type of flow, and then elementary school.”
Helping children live up to their potential regardless of their parents’ economic situation is important for everyone in the community, and Alexandria’s high-quality pre-k programs are exceeding even some parent’s expectations. One mother proudly stated, “She used to say ‘oh Mommy, I don’t know how to do it or I’m afraid’…I noticed when she started coming here she started doing things on her own that I didn’t even know she could do…and she would be like ‘no Mommy, I have it, I can do it’, and I was like ‘oh my goodness, I don’t know what to do now’.”