NLCCCC Archives - Early Learning Nation
A key part of youth advocacy is making sure the adults in the room are listening and taking action. Avinash Verma explains how youths connect with their communities differently than adults, and what that means in terms of needed resources and support. Avinash also explains how his community engagement has helped fuel is interest in aviation, including a work-learning program at the airport and with NASA.
As American cities rebuild after the pandemic, much of the focus is on infrastructure. For Dr. Tonja Rucker, Director of Early Childhood Success at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families, that means not only physical needs like roads and bridges, but also the family structure, starting with its youngest members. As Dr. Rucker notes: “If the youngest residents are healthy and doing well, then the rest of things kind of fall into place and families get to be able to meet their needs.”
As Fremont (CA) Mayor Lily Mei notes, for four of the past five years, Fremont has been listed as the happiest city in the U.S. The city also boasts incredible diversity, drawing families across multiple backgrounds and a range of languages. One area where that diversity pays off is in education. With some 35,000 kids and 42 schools, Fremont has focused on building new early learning centers, high-ranking schools and equitable access, including with special-needs pre-K programs.
Covid arrived and, suddenly, every parent became a teacher. Savannah (GA) Mayor Van Johnson sees the positive: the ability for all of us to better support teachers. Mayor Johnson also sees the need to make up for lost time, and the importance of ensuring that early learning occurs everywhere, from classrooms to churches. That’s why his message to parents is straightforward: childhood learning is “a lifetime investment. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon. It's a four-quarter game.”
Willie Lightfoot is a Rochester (NY) City Councilmember. He’s also a longtime barber. And it’s in both roles that he has made an impact on early learning. As Lightfoot explains, the time when a child waits for a haircut makes for an outstanding opportunity to read. It’s just one of the lessons one can take from Lightfoot’s chair, including his common reminder to be positive.
Like many urban centers, Baltimore has seen its share of violence. And incarceration. That’s just one reason why City Councilmember Zeke Cohen feels that the way to help people build strong lives begins not when they’re adults, but as children. As Cohen says, “We either invest early on where we know every dollar we spend in the high quality early learning space pays huge dividends down the road or we pay for it on the back end.”
One way to improve education: communication. For Pinecrest (FL) Vice Mayor Katie Abbott, that means not only regularly connecting with the school board, but also with students. Abbott co-coordinates the Pinecrest Youth Advisory Council, a group of 24 students in grades 8-12 across public and private schools who engage in government, volunteering and education, tackling issues from the environment to preparing for college.
Kathy Maness has observed and engaged in education from many directions: as a teacher, executive, NLC President, Lexington (SC) City Councilmember and a parent. She knows how difficult Covid has been on early education, including young learners who had to start school without entering an actual classroom. That’s among the reasons Maness calls for local elected officials and communities to lift up their teachers to provide the support needed to build America’s early learning programs to full strength.
For years, Hartford (CT) has been recognized as a leading city in early childhood learning. As Mayor Luke Bronin describes, the results come from a committed community, dedicated civic resources, including a Department of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation, with a division specifically focused on early child development – and the willingness to accelerate good ideas no matter where they come from. It starts, he says, by “working closely with families.”
As a Reporting Fellow at New America’s Better Life Lab, Rebecca Gale has covered many aspects of America’s approach to child care. And one thing she knows: it’s complicated. From economics to use cases to the delivery system to funding and beyond, the U.S. has no one-size-fits-all approach. That patchwork leaves too many gaps, and that’s just one reason Gale argues that one way to improve America’s child care system is to improve how journalists report about it.

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