Forward Wayne County is focused on Early Childhood Success this month. We asked Dani Arthur, founder and executive director of Oak Park Early Learning Academy, to write about the importance of early childhood education in Wayne County!
I absolutely love that Forward Wayne County has set aside the month of May to recognize the importance of Early Childhood Education. Yes, I am partial! As founder and executive director of Oak Park Early Learning Academy, I truly believe that early childhood education and educators are vital for building stronger communities.
This was not always my personal stance.
My professional career began as a middle school teacher in British Columbia, Canada, and I believed that strong elementary and secondary education were the most important years in children’s lives. When my husband and I moved to Richmond eleven years ago to pastor Oak Park Church, young families called our church weekly during our first year asking whether we’d reopen the church’s former childcare program.
Facing the Childcare Desert
Early childhood education – its value and need – was not on our radar. And, yet the persistent calls led me to investigate. After researching our city’s childcare programs, I realized that Richmond was a childcare desert, meaning that Richmond had limited options for affordable and quality childcare. There were simply too few childcare providers and/or their capacity was insufficient to meet the needs of families with young children.
Other factors that can create childcare deserts are limited transportation access to get to/from childcare providers, and even low wages for childcare employees. Low wages make it difficult to attract and retain qualified staff.
Unfortunately, the consequences of childcare deserts can be significant. Families may have to choose between leaving the workforce to care for their children or selecting childcare alternatives that may or may not be the best option. Parents that must leave their jobs to care for children significantly impact household income, and perhaps their financial stability.
At a community level, childcare deserts affect the workforce and limit economic mobility. For instance, Richmond’s businesses may experience a reduced workforce and/or employees with excessive absenteeism.
Finally, childcare deserts impact young children! Children may miss critical early learning experiences that impact future academic and social-emotional development.
Quality and Affordability
Truly, I value both! After raising four children in an expensive location, my husband and I were always stretching our household income, prioritizing family needs, and were often forced to make challenging money decisions. When it came to our children, however, we never wanted to lessen quality because childcare costs were too high.
Richmond’s young families feel exactly the same way!
When I started Oak Park Early Learning, I determined that our childcare ministry’s goals were to provide both quality and affordability. Thankfully, Indiana has multiple programs that help childcare programs reach these goals. Our state operates a childcare rating system, known as Paths to Quality. Through Paths to Quality, programs are rated annually following an inspection of their facility, learning environment, curriculum, and teacher qualifications.
Indiana also operates two programs that subsidize childcare costs for low-income households. These programs, the Child Care Development Fund and On My Way Pre-K programs, support families by covering up to 95% of the weekly childcare tuition rates. This is a tremendous blessing to both parents and children! Lastly, childcare programs may participate in Indiana’s Child and Adult Care Food Program, which subsidizes the cost to provide nutritious meals and snacks for enrolled children.
Why High-Quality Matters
Quality in early childhood education is incredibly important because it has a significant impact on the growth and development of young children. Early learning experiences support brain development, school readiness, even long-term academic, physical, and social-emotional outcomes. Quality early childhood education programs have also helped reduce disparities in outcomes between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds. It levels the playing field and ensures that all children have an opportunity to succeed!
The early years of a child’s life are critical for building a strong foundation for future success. Quality early childhood education programs support early learning and development, which leads to better outcomes later in life.
Better outcomes later in life are also good for Richmond and Wayne County! Investing in early childhood education provides a high return on investment dollars as it helps build stronger individuals for a stronger, more vibrant, and qualified future workforce.
Dani Arthur is the founder and executive director of Oak Park Early Learning Academy. Alongside her husband, Rev. Kevin Arthur, they have pastored Oak Park Church for the past eleven years. While filling a wide range of ministerial roles, they have resided in western Canada, Washington, Florida, California, and Indiana. Dani graduated from the University of Indianapolis with a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education, specializing in Reading and Learning Disabilities. Today, she is completing a Certificate in Early Education Leadership through Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.
Bottom line: Children are her inspiration!