By Marsha Sills
February 05, 2013
LAFAYETTE — A new community coalition focused on the education of Lafayette’s youngest minds recently began its work of improving child care to ensure more children are ready for kindergarten.
The early childhood coalition was organized late last year using as a guide 2012 legislation that outlines early childhood education reforms, said Patti Endsley, who co-chairs the coalition.
The coalition plays a role as educator, dispelling the misconception that “learning” begins when students start school and reaching out to parents and child care providers about what children need to know and experience to be prepared for school.
“We need to educate them on what school readiness looks like so we can have an educated community,” Endsley said.
She noted that children begin learning as infants.
“We need to work on birth to 4 if we’re going to get Lafayette and the state to succeed at education,” Endsley said.
The state’s early childhood education reforms, known as Act 3, involves providing parents with information about a child care center’s performance and ability to prepare children for school. It also creates an accountability system and performance-based funding model and calls for professional development.
“We want to create a model, or pilot program, that meets those four strategies,” Endsley said.
Endsley has been involved in child care services for 20 years — first as a center owner and now as the health and nutrition provider at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Child Development Center.
The center is for children of UL Lafayette students and faculty. She co-chairs the early childhood coalition with Jonathan Pearce, president of Sugar ‘n Spice child care centers.
The coalition includes representatives from about a dozen groups, including the university, United Way of Acadiana, South Louisiana Community College, the Lafayette Parish School System, the Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning, private child care centers, faith-based child care centers, Head Start and health professionals.
A key part of the coalition’s mission is engaging parents and the community, Pearce said. The mission includes a targeted outreach to child care providers who are not publicly funded and will not be under the oversight of Act 3, he said.
“What we need to do is engage those providers and educate the parents of the importance of providing their children with the opportunity to be in a quality, child care education program,” Pearce said.
The coalition will work on identifying possible funding streams for professional development and its educational outreach efforts, Endsley and Pearce said.
The coalition’s goals are tied to Act 3, but legislation alone didn’t serve as a catalyst for the group’s formation, Endsley said.
Its efforts are also linked to Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper’s goal of seeing that all children are prepared for kindergarten, she said.
Task force groups met to analyze district programs and needs during Cooper’s transition into the district last year.
Christine Duay, Lafayette Parish Schools early childhood supervisor, said the early childhood task force recommended examining early childhood initiatives.
“The bottom line is it impacts the whole community if a child enters school already behind,” Duay said. “Those are things that lead to dropouts, crime, unemployment.”