NLCCCC Archives - Page 2 of 3 - Early Learning Nation
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 part of New America’s Better Life Lab, Brigid Schulte helped drive a landmark report that exposed what’s really happening in America’s child care system – namely, it’s not a system. Instead, “it's a patchwork, it's broken, and it's not working well for anyone.” Schulte calls for us to “begin thinking about early care and education the same way we do about K-12.”
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.
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.
As President & CEO of the Smarter Learning Group, Ron Fairchild works directly with communities nationwide. He works with foundations, nonprofits and school districts across the country, all to expand educational opportunities for low-income kids and families. As Fairchild describes, getting to continual strong results takes work. But the ability to get there—and the responsibility to try to improve the next generation of outcomes—exists in every community.
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.
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.”
For many high school students across the country, the pandemic resulted in Zoom classes, missed milestones and an increase in mental health concerns. As a member of the Austin Youth Council—as well as NLC’s Council on Youth, Education and Families— Ann Vadakkan advocates not just for youth empowerment, but also for youth mental wellness, raising awareness to help reduce any stigma.
PRE4CLE is Cleveland's approach to expanding high quality preschool access across the city. The program began in 2014 and connected the community, county, school district, teachers, local philanthropy and of course, local government. Now they’re launching So Cleveland Early Learning Spaces, a focused effort to improve facilities in order to improve the learning environment. As Michelle Connavino, PRE4CLE’s Director of Communication & Special Initiatives, explains: It’s all part of Cleveland’s goal to ensure greater access for all three and four year olds throughout the city.
As an NLC Youth Representative and a member of the Brighton (CO) Youth Commission, Giana Rocha partners with adult leaders to help youth access the tools they need to be involved and make change. One area for impact: Helping peers with mental health issues know that support is always there.
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.”

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