Learn about impact of early childhood education

Monday, August 8, 2016

On Aug. 17 at the State of the Schools event, the Chamber will welcome James Spurlino, president and owner of Spurlino Materials and a member of ReadyNation, to discuss how investing in the first three years of children’s lives can ensure better success as students and as future members of the workforce. Spurlino has been an early-childhood advocate for more than a decade, serving on the boards of trustees for the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters and Every Child Succeeds and acting as moderator, participant and original contributor to the National Summit on Quality in Home Visiting Programs. Read on for his thoughts on how education systems can benefit from a focus on the earliest years of a child’s life.

The POINT!: How does a focus on the first three years of a child’s life impact his or her success as students and adults?
Spurlino: Abundant research points to the importance of the early years, including prenatally, on a child’s developmental trajectory. This is equally true for health and school readiness. A healthy foundation laid in those early years will lower health care costs for a lifetime and prepare a child for educational success. An undeveloped foundation means continued public health and societal costs as well as a population unprepared to enter the workforce.

What are some examples of communities who are investing in their children at an early age?
Spurlino: There are lots of good examples across the country, many at the state level and many at the local level. States and communities considering starting or ramping up efforts can easily find inspiring examples that parallel their circumstances. My concern, and a very common challenge, is that very few are being aggressive enough to serve the entire population that needs intervention. I may be impatient but significantly scaling effective interventions is the goal, not another pilot program (although that is a start).

What role does the business community play in implementing these strategies?
Spurlino: Business leaders can do lots! I am probably biased, but I don’t think many transformational efforts get traction without the business community being at least involved, if not leading it. And foremost, business leaders can start by leading––leading conversations with elected officials and other community leaders to emphasize the importance of investing early, leading efforts on accountability for results, leading by example with our companies and employees, and of course, leading with financial contributions.

What about elected officials and nonprofit organizations? How can they invest in children earlier?
Spurlino: Private philanthropy is not the answer, nor is it sustainable (although it plays an important role such as seed money to jumpstart a program). The ongoing investment has to be a publically-funded one, mostly because the rewards (lower Medicaid, special education and incarceration costs, for example) come to governments. So, elected officials are key to the discussion. Nonprofits typically have the footprint and infrastructure to programmatically address these problems but not the funding. So, the two are crucial and intertwined.

For communities that are beginning to reevaluate how they support their youngest residents, what should the first steps be?
Spurlino: I think of it like any other challenge in my life, whether professional or personal. I’d start with seeking a thorough understanding of the problem. Gather reliable data and engage those with the most knowledge and analytical skills to fully understand the issues AND the root causes. Then develop a plan that includes not just the proposed solution but a plan to grow public support and then later ensure effective execution and evaluation of results.

Hear from Spurlino on Wednesday, Aug. 17, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. For more information, go to www.okcchamber.com/sos.