February is coming to a close and soon we will be moving on from our toddler/preschool efforts to focus on being kind to elementary aged children. Although the months move on, the needs of Juneau's toddlers continue to be relevant and we encourage our community to keep this information in mind:
“Look out Kindergarten, Here I Come!” is the book around 70% of Juneau children receive as their last Dolly Parton Imagination Library book when they turn five. Children enrolled receive a book in the mail every month – a total of sixty books – and we know children enrolled in the program are read to more often. But is one book a month enough? Are our Juneau kids really ready for kindergarten? It came as quite a shock when the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development posted the results last year, that only 38% of our Juneau children are starting their first day of school with the skills they need to succeed.
So what is missing? Here are three exciting new initiatives to increase quality, affordability and capacity of child care and preschool in Juneau.
“Learn and Grow;” Alaska’s Quality Recognition Improvement system for early childhood is now up and running, joining almost every other state in measuring and increasing quality. Until now it has been hard to consistently measure the quality of programs, and to support early childhood programs in gaining and maintaining quality. Learn and Grow is rolling out five levels of quality, in partnership with support services offered through thread: Alaska’s Child Care Resource and Referral Network. (AEYC is the Southeast office for thread.) The first two programs in Juneau just achieved the second level of quality in Learn and Grow, and are well on their way to the third. There are another 12 licensed child care programs in Juneau working toward the second quality level.
Child Care Assistance to help parents afford the cost of child care is about to get a much needed increase in federal funds, thanks in part to Senator Murkowski’s support. The federal continuation budget that just passed includes doubling the amount of the Child Care Development Block Grant for the next two years, which will bring a surge in parents being able to enter the workforce and be able to afford raising a family in Juneau.
Best Starts is an initiative of ROCK Juneau (Raising Our Children With Kindness) to increase kindergarten readiness and build quality, capacity and affordability of child care for working families. We know that 70% of Juneau children are in need of high quality child care and preschool while their parents are working. There are only about 600 licensed child care, Head Start, and preschool spaces in town – about one space for every 4 children under age 6, and some families are piecing together two or three part time programs to cover a workday. Best Starts is working with the city and business leaders to provide the financial supports for child care programs to increase quality and capacity and support part time Head Start and Preschool programs to expand to full time.
Take action: During this year of kindness for kids, here are three ways you can help support high quality child care and preschool in Juneau. 1. If you know an early childhood educator, take a moment to thank them for their hard work to lay the foundation of lifetime learning for young children. 2. Start a discussion at your workplace about how to support employees with young children. 3. Visit JuneauBestStarts.org to share your child care story or find out how you can advocate for more high quality child care and preschool in Juneau.
A special thanks to Joy Lyon, Executive Director of AEYC-SEA, for the detailed information on childcare and early childhood education in Juneau. Be on the lookout for more community spotlights and kindness for kids as we move into March with a focus on elementary aged students!