Flash mob: Group to send protest video to state lawmakers

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 25, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — “Save our children.” That’s the message early childhood education advocates voiced Friday in a plea to state legislators who are considering a merger of Smart Start and More at Four programs.
The merger is being proposed as a way to cut state expenditures.
A crowd gathered outside the Smart Start Rowan office Friday as part of a rally to voice their concern about what a merger could mean to the level of funding provided to each program.
“They are looking at making some really significant cuts to early childhood and for our programs that serve young children and their families it is going to drastically hurt them,” Norma Honeycutt, executive director of Partners in Learning, said.
Honeycutt brought the community together Friday to create a “flash mob” video to send to Raleigh.
“We felt like this was a way for the community to come together and say, ‘Hey, don’t cut young children,’ ” she said. “Because the reality is if they cut it now it’s sort of like a credit card, they are going to pay for it later and they are going to pay bigger, with interest because these are the formative years for children.”
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Sarah Toledo said she’s seen the effects of the More at Four program firsthand.
Her son, 6-year-old Aden, has already completed the program and is now the No. 1 math and reading student in his first grade class at North Rowan Elementary.
Toledo said Aden’s first classroom experience was with the More at Four program at Partners in Learning. She said the program helped get him up to speed before beginning kindergarten.
“It’s an amazing program, it made a world of difference,” she said. “It was like day and night.”
Toledo’s daughter, Kilani, is currently enrolled in the More at Four classroom at Noah’s Playloft Preschool.
“It’s a really big deal for children to have a foundation to get started,” she said. “And this program brings out this thirst for learning.”
Mike Safrit, lead More at Four teacher at South Rowan Academy, said every year he sees students who come ot preschool for the first time at age four, years behind their peers.
“If you take away More at Four, they are going to be even further behind because they are going to be going right into kindergarten and they are not going to be ready,” he said. “They’ll spend the rest of their school career trying to catch up, and some of them never will.”
Patricia Sihler teared up as she made her case to keep funding in tact for early childhood programs.
“I’m a mom, I’m a taxpayer and I work my butt off,” she said. “Without Smart Start my boy wouldn’t be able to go to school, I would not be able to afford it.
“Who can afford $200 a week? I would be working just to keep him in school, forget about feeding him.”
Linda Peterson, director of Kiddie Land Kindergarten, said many of the children at her day care wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for Smart Start and More at Four.
She said of the 147 children, only about eight are private payers.
“Cuts would mean some children wouldn’t be exposed to day care at all because parents can’t afford it,” Peterson said.
Honeycutt said decreasing money for early childhood programs would hurt the people who need them most.
“Not only do we have all these families in poverty in Rowan County, but we now have even more families that are in situational poverty so it’s the worse time to cut services for our children.”
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Joy Miller of Joy’s Tenderloving Home Care said any kind of cuts to Smart Start would be devastating to her small business, which serves about eight children.
Robin Kluttz-Ellison, co-owner of Noah’s Playloft Preschool, said a reduction in state funding would make it difficulty to operate business as usual.
“Without Smart Start funding I don’t know what we’re going to do. We depend on that funding,” she said. “How are we going to maintain the level of services?”
Tina Godair, executive director of Cornerstone Child Development, agrees the services will suffer if state money is diverted from the programs.
“The funding helps raise the level of service and if they take the funding away it’s going to decrease,” she said. “It’s going to impact the entire community.”
Safrit, who also co-owns South Rowan Academy, said his business wouldn’t be able to make up for the loss in revenue if More at Four programs are cut.
“If we lose that money we are going to have to take over two jobs that somebody else does,” he said. “It would cut employment at our center.”
Peterson said she wants legislators to continue looking at other alternatives to help fill the $2.4 billion state budget gap.
“They need to dig a little deeper and find other places, other than education, especially early childhood, to cut,” she said. “Dig somewhere else.”
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Jimmy Greene, president of the Smart Start Rowan Board of Directors, said he was glad to see the community step up to support early childhood education Friday.
“This is awesome,” he said. “They are out here doing this for the kids.”
Greene said he’s been contacting state legislators to express his concerns about possible funding reductions.
“We cannot handle the kinds of cuts they are talking about,” he said. “I don’t want them to be lazy and just cut our entire programs, that’s too easy to do.
“It’s easy to look at the here and now, but you’ve got to look to the future.”
Greene urged those in attendance at Friday’s rally to contact their legislators.
“Send e-mails, make phone calls, hound them,” he said. “That’s the only way that we are going to be able to get them to listen.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.