Despite ample evidence of the important role that early language development plays in reading and literacy and numerous calls for a focus on the education of young children, the United States continues to flounder in providing universal early childhood education. In fact, few states are looking to extend preschool to all four-year-olds, much less children younger than four. Providing quality programs is even more challenging: states are just beginning to raise the standards and the salaries for preschool teachers and practitioners.
A strong and vibrant community of Episcopal preschools is bridging these gaps by providing high-quality early childhood education in hundreds of communities across the dioceses of the Episcopal Church. In fact, early childhood education has always been a singular hallmark of Episcopal education. Many a K-8 or K-12 Episcopal school owes its origins to an Episcopal preschool program, and early childhood education programs continue to be the largest sector within Episcopal schools. They serve all kinds of families and communities. Some work with infants, others serve low-income families and communities, and all provide a quality preschool option for their neighborhood, town, or county.
But what can we do as Episcopal schools at all levels to support and advance quality early childhood education for all? One first step could be to re-think “K-12” and instead embrace early childhood education as the first phase in a comprehensive cradle-to-college educational continuum. In addition, we can:
- Include preschool leaders and practitioners in local or regional Episcopal school and independent school networks.
- Urge Church leaders and faithful Episcopalians to advance and support Episcopal early childhood education programs as an essential educational mission and outreach.
- Insist on and support well-qualified and well-compensated early childhood teachers and school leaders.
- Tap the expertise of Episcopal early childhood practitioners to help parents and K-12 educators better understand the unique needs of young children, including markers of healthy development and school readiness.
- Be advocates for early childhood education needs and programs in our own towns, cities, and states, including public-sector initiatives such as universal Pre-K.
- Partner with community-based programs and agencies who serve young children.
It will take some time before quality childcare and early childhood education programs are available and accessible for all children. While we work towards that goal as a society and a profession, Episcopal preschools will continue to be a vital service to families and young children of all kinds. All of us can and must support this important work.