Vail Daily column: Great start for kids | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Great start for kids

Dick Rothkopf
Valley Voices

Last Wednesday's comprehensive front-page article was about our "child care crisis" as reported in a detailed study commissioned by Eagle County and the school system. Our county is short of money and places for caring for and educating our young children. In the study, the term "child care" is often used synonymously with "early childhood education," but in reality they are very different.

If little Sue goes to child care, she will be safely looked after for eight or nine hours per day, but unless her childcare is enriched, that is all she will get. Little Judy, who goes to a high-quality early childhood education school, will also learn, from the day she shows up and until she goes to kindergarten, how to listen to and look through books — probably in two languages — how to control her anger when her block pile is knocked down, how to order objects by size and color, the shapes and sounds of letters, and hundreds of other necessary academic and social skills.

On Judy's first day of kindergarten, she will feel empowered, knowing how to interact with her fellow kindergartners, recognizing the words she needs and starting to read books. Judy is likely to thrive at school.

But when Sue enters kindergarten, she may be confused and may not understand many of the words the teacher or her schoolmates are using and may not be skilled at playing and interacting. Sue, unless her childcare was particularly enriched or she was lucky enough to have a parent who talked to her for hours each day, read books with her, played games with her and talked with her often about her emotions, will have a hard time thriving in kindergarten. She is likely to hold the rest of her class back, and she herself may well begin to feel that she is not capable of being a good or happy student.

Our county's childcare providers give our children as much early childhood education as their resources will allow, but many are constrained by finances and simply cannot provide full spectrum "early childhood education." Of course, we want our kids, especially those from families not able to afford them certain advantages at home, to go to a full-spectrum early childhood education school so they will hit the ground running when they get to kindergarten. There is extensive evidence to show that these children will perform as well as their middle-class mates not only in kindergarten, but throughout school. And, their classmates will benefit as well.

Of course, quality early childhood education school is more expensive than basic childcare. An affordable school, such as the one recommended in the Eagle County Early Childhood Road Map requires private funding along with public. A group of concerned local citizens who feel our entire community will prosper when our children receive quality early childhood education school has volunteered to help.

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They are committed to raise, privately and through grants, about $12 million to build a school on donated land for 225 local children from ages 0 to 5, streaming 50 highly qualified children each year into our public elementary schools. They know we need more qualified bilingual early childhood teachers and eventually that these important influencers should graduate from our local Colorado Mountain College campus. This single new school would create more than 40 new jobs in the $30,000 to $60,000 salary range and eventually add $15 million to the county's GDP. It would serve as a lab school for our Colorado Mountain College and would provide training and recourses outside its walls to teachers and parents throughout the community.

The group is willing to serve on a public-private board to oversee the administration and operations of the school, the operating costs for which would be subsidized by annual state and federal grants. Every $1 of these outside grants would require about 50 cents of county tax-generated revenues. After this school is established and successful, one or two more such schools could be added to provide early childhood education for more of our kids, but this school, the Eagle County Children's Campus, would make a great start toward enriching our children, our schools and our community.

Dick Rothkopf lives in Edwards.