Early Learning Focus

Michael Hanson, Fresno Unified Superintendent

We have all heard the adage, "You're never too old to learn," but have you ever stopped to consider the other side of that coin? "You're never too young to begin learning."
Our children are our most important asset. As our future leaders, they will be responsible for shaping our community and our country's future -- ensuring growth and prosperity for the generations that follow them. It won't be easy, so we need to provide them every possible tool.

It's well documented that Fresno is fighting concentrated poverty. Fresno Unified's answer to concentrated poverty is concentrated education, and that effort starts at an early age. The Board of Education has invested $10 million in resources in early learning. The research is overwhelming that starting the formal education process as early as possible is critical. If we can get our youngest residents into classrooms when they're 4 years old, we're setting them up for increased success throughout their academic career.

With the help of our original investments back in 2011, we now have 62 early learning sites, totaling 109 classrooms offering 182 classes and serving more than 3,200 students. Our $10 million expansion of early learning programs has led to deeper collaborative work with national organizations like the Packard Foundation. It too recognizes that early learning for our youth is paramount. In fact, last year the Packard Foundation made a 10-year investment in only three places in the country, and Fresno Unified was one of those places.

Fresno Unified offers a range of structured early learning programs that help build and promote social and emotional development, language and cognitive skills, pre-math and literacy skills as well as developing a child's motor skills. Programs offer a wide-range of options for students and parents, including three-hour and full day pre-kindergarten programs, dual-immersion with instruction in Spanish at selected sites, inclusion programs, early learning classes focused on oral language development, as well Child Development Centers and programs for children 3-5 with disabilities.

As you often hear from our partners at First Five of Fresno County, a child's brain is influenced and shaped by experiences beginning at birth, with 90% of their brain development complete by kindergarten. By age 3, children from families with low levels of education have heard 30 million fewer words than the children of working class or professional parents. A strong language-based preschool program can close this gap by accelerating vocabulary development before kindergarten. Researchers have found that every dollar spent on preschool saved $2 to $12 spent later on by the criminal justice system and for welfare and special education services. Early learning has an impact on us all.

No matter the program, they strengthen our students' ability to succeed in the classroom long-term, reduce the likelihood of dropping out down the road and provide them the tools they will need to stay on track to graduate college and be career ready. Early learning registration is vital for our youth and our community. You can learn more about early learning opportunities in this edition of Building Futures or by calling (559) 457-3682 or (559) 457-3803.