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Smart Start Rowan to present ‘The Wonder of Childhood’

By Susan Shinn Turner
Smart Start Rowan

The name Fred Rogers is synonymous with early childhood learning and development. Rogers, host of the long-running PBS show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” always encouraged children to find the helpers in society.

Those helpers — parents, childcare providers, non-profit agencies, elected officials, and businesspeople — are all invited to “The Wonder of Childhood — A Community Presentation.” Sponsored by Smart Start Rowan, this free event takes place from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on April 11 in the auditorium of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

Dana Winters

Dr. Dana Winters is director of Simple Interactions and Academic Programs at the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media. The center is based at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. Winters is serving as the keynote speaker for Smart Start Rowan’s annual Shirley P. Ritchie Champion for Young Children event, which takes place that same week. In her conversations with Amy Brown, the agency’s executive director, Winters offered to do a community program.

As part of speaking engagements, Winters says, “We do try our best to contribute to the community in some way. It is the hallmark of what we do.”

She notes, “Through the Fred Rogers Center work, we strive to enhance the quality of human relationships surrounding children, promote children’s ‘growing on the inside,’ and give positive meaning to the use of technology in children’s learning and growing.”

Everyone in the community, Winters says, has a role and responsibility to be a helper for a child. One thing all children need to succeed is at least one caring adult, she says. “Nothing can take the place of human connection. Anybody who plays a small part in a child’s life has a big responsibility to make a deep impact.”

It’s a simple message, Winters says. The legacy of Fred Rogers is that “it really is just you. You are enough to change a child’s life.”

Simple interactions with young children create the foundations of learning. Winters works with early educators to reflect and evaluate their best practices, so that they can understand how to connect more intentionally with children. Intentional play, Winters points out, is the way young children explore and learn. “It is the important work of childhood.”

The whole child approach is critical, Brown says. “We know children will not succeed academically if they are not in a supportive, nurturing environment.”

Brown says she hopes that a diverse audience will attend the “Wonder of Childhood” event: parents, grandparents, students, childcare providers, educators, community leaders, elected officials, agency directors and businesspeople. Training credit is available for childcare providers.

“In order to ensure the well-being of the whole child, you have to have all of a community’s stakeholders involved,” Brown notes. “We can’t do it alone. It really does take a village. We all have to work together to ensure a child’s path to success.”

Local folks involved with Smart Start Rowan agree.

Greg and Missie Alcorn are diamond sponsors of the agency’s annual event. Alcorn — a longtime local businessman and entrepreneur — and his wife — the co-owner of Caniche — have spearheaded ApSeed, a literacy program which uses e-readers to promote reading skills.

“Five years ago I didn’t know very much about early childhood education,” Alcorn admits. “It’s just not in the day-to-day conversations of business operators. However, after learning the generational benefits of early childhood education, I believe every business and community leader should learn as much as possible about its benefits.

“If we are committed to the next generation, we can commit to early intervention in at-risk children’s early education. The research tells us the return on investment is fantastic. If we can keep infants and preschoolers age proficient in their literacy, we have a better chance of them being grade proficient in school. That reduces remediation and cost to the community and gives the community a chance for better economic development going forward.”

Barbara Jo Corriher is a member of Smart Start Rowan’s board and is chairman of its community relations committee. For many years, she directed the preschool program at Mount Zion United Church of Christ in China Grove.

“Rowan County is blessed to have Dana Winters of the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media visiting our community,” Corriher says. “Dana will help all those attending realize what a positive impact we can have on any child crossing our path. Childhood should be such a treasured time, and Dana will raise our awareness that one’s kind words of praise, smiles of encouragement and loving hugs really make a wonderful difference in a child’s life. These everyday actions can be especially important for a child who is experiencing harsh life challenges.

“I feel that anyone who cares about children will really appreciate Dana’s insight and will feel their time with her is well spent. I encourage childcare providers, educators, parents, grandparents, college students, local officials and others to attend.”

Brown is delighted that Winters will be in Salisbury during the 50th anniversary year of the premiere of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” A documentary movie about the series, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is being released in June.

“Everything Smart Start is about, Fred Rogers was, too,” Brown says. “He was before his time. He really laid the framework for the work that we do.”

You may register for “The Wonder of Childhood” event by contacting Bianca Munoz at Smart Start Rowan at 704-630-9085 or bmunoz@smartstartrowan.org.

Smart Start Rowan is a United Way member agency.

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