Early Childhood Education

The following letter was submitted by Marissa Laham, a life-long Santa Monica resident and currently a graduate student at the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work. Santa Monica Next welcomes guest contributions and editorials. We look for fact-based content relevant to the future of the city. Submitting your writing does not guarantee it will be published. For more information, email [email protected]

Growing up in the suburbs of West Los Angeles, I was extremely fortunate when it came to quality public school education and involved parents that primed me for kindergarten and preschool. As the oldest of three children, I watched my younger brothers also experience public education in some of the more affluent schools within Los Angeles Unified School District.

My hands-on mother was so passionate about education that she left the comforts of her job as city planner to become an elementary school teacher, after room parenting in my kindergarten classroom, and hasn’t missed a day of teaching grades K-3 in the twenty years since. Now, as a graduate student studying social work, I look back and realize how truly privileged I was. I see how my early educational experiences paved the road for later opportunities in higher education, and in life. It saddens me that in 2015, quality education is still a luxury so many are not afforded, a privilege so many seem to be blocked from.

What is your earliest memory? When did you first feel affected by your environment? How old were you, exactly? These questions result in memory recall that, for me, cannot locate an exact point in time in my early life. I cannot track down the moment I first began to learn, absorb material, or be affected by my environment. These are experiences I cannot pin to a single age.

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Learning, much like experience, cannot be tied to one starting point that is the same for all individuals. How can we expect to successfully provide our children with the tools they need for later success in school and in life if we leave this up to umbrella policies that assume the critical periods of learning begin at age 5?

With new research linking quality preschool programs and early childcare with huge social and economic benefits, there is more reason than ever to provide early tools for success to every child, starting first with those who need it most. Young children from economically disadvantaged, low-income, and vulnerable communities do not begin their education from a common starting point with their peers. Too many families and communities lack the education, social resources, health, support, and career opportunities to help abet poverty and crime, and so they become entrenched in environments deficient in meeting the needs of any human being to flourish. At-risk children from vulnerable backgrounds need a head start in education.

Not only does this make sense logically and from a moral standpoint, but also from socioeconomic analysis. Funding quality education for our nation’s most vulnerable children, before age 5, has shown promising social and economic rewards for individual, community, and the nation. By providing early child education and enrichment programs to the most needy, at-risk young children, we can strengthen communities, plant the seeds for a more educated and skilled workforce, lead to fewer children held back in school, as well as reduced need for and enrollment in special education by grade three. We can look forward to huge returns in the form of fewer arrests, smaller prison entry rates, and subsequent reduced criminal justice and related health costs, helping to reduce state and nationwide deficits. Funding quality early childhood education for those who need it most is a small investment in the future of our nation that benefits every child, every community.

Marissa R. Laham, MSWc, 2017
University of Southern California, School of Social Work