CMQ Winter 2020 - No Small Matter Matters to Many
Finding a way to increase opportunities and access to high-quality early childhood education was an issue that mattered to over 100 people last week at a showing of the documentary film No Small Matter, followed by a discussion panel with regional leaders. In partnership with Community Equity Collaborative, All Five, Good2Know Network, and the Primary School, Menlo Park City School District hosted the event and MPCSD Superintendent Erik Burmeister welcomed the public while presenting the district’s own Early Learning Center preschool as a model of how public school districts can enter the arena of early learning with excellent programs that are available on a sliding scale to lower-income families. The distinguished panel was moderated by San Mateo County Office of Education Superintendent Nancy Magee and included San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine, Menlo Park Mayor Cecilia Taylor, MPCSD Early Learning Parent May-Ling Kuo Gonzales, All Five Teacher Kerry Folan, and Primary School Teacher Tajmah Martin.
No Small Matter is the first feature documentary to explore the most overlooked, underestimated, and powerful force for change in America today: early childhood education. Through poignant stories and surprising humor, the film lays out the overwhelming evidence for the importance of the first five years and reveals how our failure to act on that evidence has resulted in an everyday crisis for American families, and a slow-motion catastrophe for the country. From access to programs across the country to the difficulties in recruiting and retaining qualified educators to a field that pays notoriously low wages, the film laid out many of the challenges faced by those who advocate for broader access to early learning for all families. As compelling as the cognitive and social and equity-focused arguments for early learning are, leaders throughout the film and the panel discussion continued to make the case that providing high quality early learning programs for all children is also undeniably smart economic policy. Educating children starting before age three leads to adults who are more engaged and productive, and the cost of providing quality early learning is far cheaper than the social costs of unemployment, crime, and even imprisonment that many times could have been avoided by making an investment in children’s education from an early age.
To bring the point closer to home, Supervisor Pine said, “San Mateo county spends hundreds of millions of dollars helping people who’ve had a hard time, but we need to invest more in early childhood education. If not because of compassion and fairness, at least because it makes a lot of financial sense.”
Superintendent Magee was moved by the film and personally committed to talking “everywhere I go,” about the film and its focus on the importance of early childhood education. The preschool teachers on the panel, Teacher Kerry and Miss Tajmah as the students call them, stressed the fact that so many children need quality programs and teachers need quality pay. It is extremely difficult to spend a career in this field, especially in a high-cost-of-living such as the Bay Area. They also noted that professional development is crucial, since teachers need to be lifelong learners as well, in order to continuously bring the most effective strategies to their classrooms. They appreciated the audience who came out to learn more, and said, “The greatest lift for an early childhood education teacher is being believed in and having the public’s confidence that their work is valuable.” The teachers featured in the film and on the panel pushed back against the very common myth that early learning educators are merely “babysitters.”
In conclusion, Mayor Taylor, who herself spent years in the early learning field, encouraged both her fellow government leaders and the audience to look at all the issues around early learning with a lens of equity, access, and inclusion. All families must benefit from any investment in early childhood education.
While it may be tempting to raise our hands in frustration at the huge challenges that must be overcome to provide better access to quality preschool programs and better pay for providers, one thing that can make a difference is staying informed and voting for candidates who also value investing in quality early learning.