LAFAYETTE — Sen. Mary Landrieu visited the United Way of Acadiana’s new Early Head Start Early Learning Center Friday and discussed the importance of providing proper care for children during the early years of their lives.
The Jefferson Street center opened in May and serves 36 children ages infant through age 3 who live in the 70501 ZIP code, an area selected because of its high-rate of poverty.
“Think about what a gift this is not just for the families, but for the community,” said Landrieu, D-La. “At kindergarten, they’ll know their colors, they’ll know their numbers...Maybe some of these children will be reading at 4 and 5 years old. What happens when a child reads early, a miracle occurs because then a child can start teaching himself.”
Landrieu was recognized during a ceremony at the Lafayette center for her support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 Early Head Start Expansion, which made the Lafayette and Abbeville centers a reality, said Margaret Trahan, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Acadiana.
“Children starting school ready to learn is so essential if we’re going to improve graduation rates and improve the quality of our state,” Trahan said during the ceremony.
The agency received a $3 million grant in 2010 to create an Early Head Start center in Lafayette and another in Abbeville. Both centers opened a few months ago. The Abbeville center also serves 36 children, ,and another 31 families receive home-based educational services.
A goal is to expand both center and home-based educational services to reach more families and whittle down a waiting list for the services, said Margarette Derise, executive director of the United Way of Acadiana Early Head Start program.
The United Way is also a partner in the Lafayette Parish School System’s efforts to strengthen early childhood education in the parish with an outreach to child care centers and families who don’t have their toddlers in any educational program.
Landrieu credited the community collaboration, which also includes the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and its Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning. She encouraged private business to invest in early childhood initiatives.
“That doesn’t start in seventh grade. It doesn’t start in high school. It starts literally in prenatal care, but it most certainly starts in the first three years of life,” Landrieu said.
In Lafayette Parish, about 400 children enter kindergarten who have not had a “proper early childcare” program, said Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper.
Community partners will help identify those toddlers not receiving any educational services before kindergarten and help find a program for them, which will take private support, Cooper said.