Early childhood education is a necessity; we must work together to bring it to every child

The Week of the Young Child is all about recognizing that the education received in the early childhood years lays a foundation for success.

The following article appeared in the July 6, 2024 edition of The Tennessean.

While the demands and expectations of parenthood have changed over the years, there has been one constant – and often vexing – desire for families of all shapes and sizes: access to affordable, quality early childhood education.

The importance of early childhood education is well documented.

Studies show that children who are in child care centers beginning at six months of age are better prepared to enter Pre-K and kindergarten, read at or above grade level by first grade, and form stronger social bonds with their peers.

But, unfortunately, the high cost and scarce availability of quality education for young people prevents many children from receiving these benefits.

Week of the Young Child recognizes the importance of early childhood education

Recently, my child development center, Saint Mary Villa in North Nashville, joined others across the nation to celebrate The Week of the Young Child [https://www.naeyc.org/events/woyc]. Started by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in 1971, this week is all about recognizing that the education received in the early childhood years lays a foundation for success, underscoring a belief that every child deserves the opportunity to build that foundation.

Tyranny Green reads a children’s book to the toddlers during circle time at Saint Mary Villa, Child Development Center in Nashville, Tenn., Monday, Sept. 25, 2023.

At Saint Mary Villa, we are passionate about providing opportunities for all families and children – regardless of income or Zip code. Our child development center started as an orphanage 160 years ago and is one of the oldest centers in the nation still in existence today.

In the 1970s, our center was converted to a childcare center, but our mission has remained the same: providing high-quality, affordable early child development education to all children, including our most vulnerable.

We do that with a curriculum that teaches and engages the whole child through play. Our children learn through stories, songs, teacher-guided activities and social interaction with a diverse group of peers. Our literacy curriculum, through Read to Succeed with United Way, is a comprehensive early childhood learning model that focuses on building literacy and social-emotional skills for Nashville’s most at-risk preschoolers. With this curriculum, our students learn how to express their feelings and emotions while creating a foundation for language development, self-control and self-confidence.

Luz Guzman plays with the children at the playground at Saint Mary Villa, Child Development Center in Nashville, Tenn., Monday, Sept. 25, 2023.

We also host events, such as the April 3 “United We Read” celebration, where United Way volunteers celebrated the gift of reading with our families and students by providing breakfast, reading books with our kids, and celebrating the importance of literacy at a young age. We were proud to be chosen as one of four centers in Nashville to be a part of this important event.

We can’t ensure equal access to high-quality childcare without your help

In support of our mission to give all our students the opportunity to learn, grow and develop, we participate in the state’s childcare assistance program and provide childcare on a sliding fee scale based on each family’s annual household income. This means families only have to pay what they can afford.
We also provide breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack, ensuring all children can learn without worrying about an empty belly.

Because of this mission and our dedication to providing quality early childhood education at an affordable price, our center is full of families from across Middle Tennessee, and we have a long waiting list of families hoping to get in.

While there are plans to open additional centers in the future, we cannot possibly serve all the deserving young children in our community. That’s why we need your help.

Taking inspiration from the message of this Week of the Young Child, if you believe in the importance of early childhood education, we along with National Association for the Education of Young Children are encouraging all of our friends and allies to lift up your voices on behalf of young children, and the adults who love, care for, and educate them.

We encourage you to join the United Way for next year’s United We Read celebration and to call your local and state representatives and ask them to make long-term investments in affordable, high-quality childcare and in early education.

Read full article on The Tennessean website.

Alyssa Garnett-Arno is the executive director of Saint Mary Villa Child Development Center on Heiman Street, near Fisk University, which has been providing early childhood education for more than 160 years.