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Early Childhood in Focus at Great Start Collaborative Forum

Local and regional advocates of early childhood education say the time is now to make a significant impact for the future.

Michigan has much room to improve in terms of how effective its early-childhood education programs are compared to other states. And the time is now to capitalize on peaked interest in both households and the highest levels of state government, according to a group of panelists that met at the Great Start Collaborative-Oakland Annual Forum in Bloomfield Hills Friday morning.

"We have a governor that gets it and I believe our time has come," said Susan Broman, director of the Office of Great Start, which Gov. Rick Snyder formed not long after taking office in 2010. "What keeps me up at night is are we going to deliver, and can we deliver outcomes for the kids the best way we can?"

Part of doing that successfully depends largely on the more than 70 local volunteers, educators, government leaders, and business officials in attendance at the Iroquois Club, according to organizers. The Great Start Collaborative Oakland is coordinated by members of the Oakland Schools whose mission is to ensure families have the knowledge about and access to services they'll need to help prepare their children for school and to get them eager to learn.

They collaborate with local businesses, parents, non-profit organizations and virtually any community stakeholders that have an interest in early childhood education. They also believe that taking proactive steps before children are school age can have a significant impact later on teen pregnancies, crime, delinquency, and eventually access to higher education and meaningful employment.

In 2011, the collaborative conducted 5,500 family screenings to determine which local services were available that they could benefit from, according to the annual report. It hosted 74 'parent cafes' where parents were exposed to the wide range of programs available and were trained to become advocates within their own communities, and also funded 21 scholarships for full-day childcare to low-income, working families.

Organizers said the need has increased tremendously as the number of children living in poverty in Oakland County rose by 48 percent between 2005 and 2009, and the economy has yet to rebound.

"Now is a key time to be building these partnerships because we know the eye, the focus, will move to something else," said Nancy Jennings, CEO of the Women's Caring Program. "We want to be ready to support this kind of work because the kids are going to keep coming."

Also on the panel were:

  • Alyssa Martina, CEO, Publisher and President Metro Parent Publishing Group
  • Shaun Wilson, Director of Client and Community Relations, PNC Bank

Joan Firestone, Director of Early Childhood for Oakland Schools moderated the discussion. Visit the organization's website for more information.

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