Editorial: The best 2,000 days

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 22, 2015

It was hard to miss the words on the screen behind Dr. Lynn Moody at Thursday’s Literacy Summit, the second such gathering sponsored by the Rowan-Salisbury School System.

“Students who are ready … can find the first and last letter in a word, see the spaces between words, understand that readers move from left to right …”

The literacy push that Superintendent Moody is leading comes at a time when a surprising number of children enter school without being able to identify the letters alphabet, much less the first and last letter in a word. They don’t know what it’s like to have someone read them a story, following the words from left to right across the page.

Far too many children start kindergarten already behind. Their education has been stunted by a lack of stimulation in what educators refer to as the first 2,000 days, the time between birth and kindergarten. They have to play catch-up — or give up — for the rest of their lives. At-risk children who do not get a high-quality early childhood education are said to be 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by the time they are 18 years old.

The community clearly has a stake in making sure children get a better start. The Rowan-Salisbury School System needs to improve student achievement from kindergarten through grade 12, but the learning process begins well before age 5. One of the greatest ways to make a difference is to help children get a good start in those first 2,000 days so they’re ready to learn when they walk through the kindergarten door on the first day of school.

Lisa Finaldi from the N.C. Early Childhood Foundation, a speaker at the summit, listed the three things that can lead to children achieving grade level reading — good health, strong families and high-quality early learning experiences.

Services to help families get a good start with literacy range from Rowan Public Library’s weekly Baby Time program, introducing simple stories and songs, to Smart Start’s Imagination Library. Head Start has programs that start during pregnancy; countless churches offer preschool. Somehow, though, children are falling through the cracks.

Awareness is the first step toward change — awareness of the problem as well as our collective duty to seek solutions. Do we need more one-on-one volunteer tutoring, more accessible preschool, stepped up community outreach, innovation of some kind — or all of the above? With children losing ground every day, the search for solutions is urgent. Each child deserves the best first 2,000 days this community can provide.