Tag Archives: Gaston County Schools

Investing in Educational Excellence

SEABROOK SAYS: Everybody knows Jennie Stultz.   But, for sure, everybody odes not know she is the leader of the Gaston County Education Foundation. This organization raises funds to meet needs that the Gaston County Schools budget cannot afford. Read on.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

The Gaston County Education Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit, was organized in 1992 to raise funds for extraordinary initiatives not covered in the regular Gaston County Schools budget.  Since our inception, we have funded over $950,000 in grants to Gaston County Schools teachers.  Our funds, raised through private and corporate investments, are housed within the Community Foundation of Gaston County.  A broadly-based board of directors directs the programs of the foundation and maintains our corpus of funds to create a valuable resource for Gaston County Schools.

Receiving a good education is a key component to each person’s quality of life. Providing a channel of educational excellence is the main objective of the Gaston County Education Foundation.

The Gaston County Education Foundation (GCEF) has lead positive change in the following capacities:

In the mid to late 1990’s, GCEF served as a vehicle for major contributions and investments in the building and development of Highland School of Technology, by providing a 501c3 organization to channel major grants, to include a $1 million grant from the N. C. Department of Public Instruction.  This N.C. School of Excellence now boasts a 100% graduation rate!

The Ron L. Ensley Grants awarded yearly to deserving teachers, provide funding for innovative teaching that otherwise would go unfunded.  Teachers must justify expected outcomes to include improved student performance in End of Grade and End of Course testing.  Sustainability and transferability are key components to the grants awarded.  An average of $50,000 each year is awarded in grants.

An annual Teaching and Learning Conference is held in August for all teachers.  The GCEF funds the cost of two renowned keynote speakers who open the two-day session with inspiring messages and praise to begin the new school year.

When the S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) initiative was being launched, GCEF pledged a three year funding commitment totaling $15,000 to establish S.T.E.M. in all Gaston County Schools fifth grade classrooms.

For the past ten years, the Gaston County Education Foundation has funded the handbooks for Gaston Together’s “Pride in Gaston County” program which reaches every third grader in Gaston County Schools.

“Are You Smarter than a Gaston County Fifth Grader” has become an epic event.  The yearly tradition pairs area businesses with local elementary schools for a friendly competition to raise funds and raise friends through the Education Foundation.  At least 9 of the 12 schools involved are Title 1 schools.  The members of each corporate team visit the school building team spirit, mutual cooperation and studying the questions to be posed from the standard End of Grade and End of Course tests. This opportunity offers students, who are ethnically diverse, a positive experience with professionals.  The students come to realize the capacity for local jobs and personal success.  The event celebrates 360 participants and an auditorium full of raving fans and serves as a major source of our grant funding.

The GCEF has provided creative leadership and problem solving through a diverse support base of educators, foundations, corporate partners, and advocates for public education to determine our most critical funding priorities.  As greater needs are identified by Gaston County Schools, the GCEF can continue to be a vehicle by which larger investments can be channeled.  The GCEF also offers opportunities for funders to earmark monies for a specific need they wish to meet, to include individual scholarships, memorials and honorariums.

Our foundation has developed the expectation that positive outcomes are not optional,  they are expected.

Our principles are paramount to the educational excellence required to keep our county competitive for growth and sustainability.

If you are inspired by our work, we want to partner with you as an individual, business or organization by:

  • Volunteering for any of our signature events or serving on our board of directors
  • Sharing monetary investments which build our capacity to build our grant awards.
  • Earmarking and directing donated funds for particular initiatives.
  • Donating funds to honor or memorialize friends and relatives.

We can broaden our sphere of influence through greater connections county-wide.  You can be that one connection that strengthens our public schools, one student at a time!

For additional information, go to our facebook page: Gaston County Education Foundation, our website at: gaston.k12.nc.us/gaston county education foundation, by phone at 704-874-1876 or 704-616-8613 or by email at gceducationfoundation@gmail.com.

 Jennie Stultz
Executive Director

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Snap, Crackle and Pop

SEABROOK SAYS: Carolyn Niemeyer gives every day to the Gaston community! Very few citizens will ever know how much she does. The back pack program she brings is incredibly successful.  Read her article and ask yourself’ “Can I help kids get food for the weekends?”  More readers need to step forward and help. How about you?  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

How many of us have heard this phrase on TV and associated it with popular cereal?  Likely, many of us could just go to the kitchen in our homes and find cereal to eat.  What about the students in Gaston County who would not have had that opportunity if not for the BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc.?  The food bags received on Fridays have meant the difference between being hungry over the weekend and having meals to eat.  The students are so anxious to get the weekend food they start asking their teachers on Friday morning, “Are we getting our food today?”

The Gaston County Schools currently report that 66% of the student population is eligible for free lunch. This is a 10% increase in need from 2011 when the BackPack Weekend Food Program began.

The US Census Bureau reports that 44% of households in Gaston County have yearly income of $35,000 or less. These statistics indicate a need for economic improvement in our area.

The BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc. has grown from providing weekend food for students in 17 schools in the beginning to 43 schools currently.  The program provided almost 300,000 meals to 950+ students this year.  The operation of the program has grown out of the space at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and will start the new school year in a larger warehouse space on Linwood Rd.  It is anticipated that the program will begin with around 1,000 students.  Just imagine how many volunteers this will take to get the food from the truck to the back packs of the students!

The good news is that with so many caring people in the community the task will be accomplished. The number of students in need will increase in the near future and food costs will continue to rise as much as 5 to 7%.  A registered dietician assists the program to provide menus that meet the caloric and nutritional needs of the students K-12 within the budget for the meals.

Many schools and teachers report that the students have hope when they receive the weekend food bags. Hope that someone cares about them weekly, not just one time. Surveys report that there has been an increase in positive behavior and daily work in the classroom because they are not concentrating on their growling stomach.  As a community, it is our mission to encourage these students to stay in school and receive their education.  Without education these students will have difficulty finding jobs that will sustain themselves or their families. Individual failure leads to family failure and community failure.

The BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc. is totally run by volunteers. Local churches and community groups provide funding for about 70% of the students. The remainder of funds come from grants, donations and fundraisers.

For more information about the program, how to make a donation, or volunteer, please visit our web site at http://www.backpackweekendfoodprogram.com.

You always stand taller when you kneel to help a child.”

Carolyn Niemeyer head shot

Carolyn Niemeyer Community Volunteer

 

 

Lean and Nimble

SEABROOK SAYS: Gaston County is extremely fortunate to have Earl Mathers as our county manager.  Our commissioners have just finished the budget for the upcoming year.  Earl shares lots of information about the financial issues we face in our new fiscal year.  Financially, we are doing pretty good! Now  that you know, what will you do?

 Gaston County Approves the FY 2017 Budget

During the last two years Gaston County has adopted leading edge budget practices in an effort to ensure that community and county commission priorities are as closely aligned with expenditures as possible. In fact, the implementation of the leading edge Priority Based Budgeting (PBB) methods have further streamlined an already award winning budgetary process in Gaston County.  We also take pride in the fact that the foremost authority on governmental budgeting, the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), has recognized Gaston County for excellence in its budget process for the last several years.  In addition, strong financial management practices was a major factor in a recent bond rating upgrade by Standard and Poor’s for Gaston County which enables the county to obtain more favorable interest rates in the financing of school debt. This bond rating upgrade will save the county tens of thousands of dollars.

Gaston County’s general fund budget for FY 17 is approximately $202 million. Although this may seem like a great deal of money to most people, most of what Gaston County does is mandated.   In other words, Gaston County has limited discretion in the activities it performs.  Despite the mandates, the county does have the ability and the responsibility to ensure that all activities are performed in an efficient manner.  PBB enables Gaston County’s managers to be more intentional and results oriented in their deployment of scarce resources, regardless of whether a particular program is mandated or discretionary.

Producing Gaston County’s annual budget is an arduous process involving months of intensive work. Typically, budget requests exceed available funds by a substantial margin and this year a total of over $25 million was trimmed from departmental and external requests in order to produce a budget that is balanced.  The FY 17 budget would be flat except for the fact that $3 million in additional debt service for two new schools and $1.5 million in teacher supplements are included.  These are expenditures that have considerable merit. Overall, Gaston County departmental budgets are flat for FY 17.  There are several significant expense items on the horizon, however.  These include the need to make a variety of infrastructure improvements which have been deferred for several years and upgrade the public safety radio communication system.  Leading expense categories for FY 17 in Gaston County are illustrated below:

Mathers pie chart

Fortunately, Gaston County anticipates revenue growth in coming years. Both property and sales tax revenues are expected to continue to grow and this will ease the financial strain that Gaston County has felt since the beginning of the recession.  In addition, the increase in debt service over the next two fiscal years will decline as older debt is retired.  Continued fiscal restraint on the part of county departments will also be necessary and desirable but, in general, Gaston County’s financial outlook is favorable.  Anticipated revenue growth for FY 17 is shown below.

Mathers graphLooking to the Future

There is a widespread belief that Gaston County is poised to achieve the kind of progress that will lead to greater economic parity with several of our regional neighbors. Some lament the fact that Gaston has fallen behind more affluent parts of the metro area and yet there are specific reasons that growth has been more gradual here.  Actually, considering the persistent generational poverty and other challenges confronting Gaston County, our performance has been quite strong in recent years.  Unemployment has fallen to around the state average and many of the jobs lost during the decline of the textile industry have been replaced.  Indeed, we now need to develop more industrial property which fits the needs of prospective industries and the FY 17 budget sets aside money for that purpose.

There is most assuredly room for continued advancement and if genuine collaboration in the public interest occurs there is reason for considerable optimism. Gaston County recognizes these needs and has made a variety of investments that we hope will yield excellent returns.  Colin Powell once said “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”  In order to achieve the success we all desire for Gaston County, we must allow our collective optimism to brush aside minor differences in a manner that promotes the common good.  Although every individual and all the organizational entities in Gaston County have a natural tendency to protect their own interests, lets’ focus on mutual efforts that will yield universal benefits as we design an even brighter future.

Earl Mathers
Manager, Gaston County

Gaston County Schools Has Accepted Rachel’s Challenge

SEABROOK SAYS: Gaston County Schools are confronting BULLYING head on and are getting positive results.  Improvements are clear in relationship building, communications, learning and kindness towards peers!      NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

In August 2012, Gaston County Schools became the first school district on the East Coast to launch district-wide participation in Rachel’s Challenge.  This program was made possible by a grant partnership with the United Way of Gaston County.  School support personnel including counselors, social workers, nurses, and media specialists experienced a powerful introduction to Rachel Scott’s story at our summer training.  Participants were all moved by the incredible vision of this young lady and the impact her life is still having nationwide, and they were excited to bring this message to everyone in Gaston County Schools.

Rachel Scott was a student killed in the Columbine school shooting.  Her ideals of kindness and compassion live on through the organization that sponsors the Rachel’s Challenge initiative.  Another important message of the Rachel’s Challenge program is the idea that each person can reach millions.  In the presentation, a story is shared that Rachel drew her hands on the back of her dresser and wrote that her hands would touch millions, a prophecy that has definitely come true.

From the organization’s website, www.rachelschallenge.org, five tenets for improving school climate include this challenge to students:

  1. Dream BIG and Believe in myself.
  2. Be KIND to others.
  3. Practice POSITIVE gossip with others.
  4. Show APPRECIATION to those I love.
  5. Be the ANSWER (not the problem).

In Fall 2012, school presentations were held to introduce the tenets of Rachel’s challenge to all students.  These programs were tailored to the appropriate learning levels for elementary, middle, and high school.  Students signed a banner, accepting Rachel’s Challenge to have a positive impact on school climate.  The message went beyond an anti-bullying message.  Students were being asked to complete targeted acts of kindness.  The speaker encouraged students and faculty members to consciously do something kind every day and to look for those who might need their friendship.  One important example in the program was for students to be inclusive.  An example was given to look around at lunch and other social opportunities in the school and to invite someone who may be sitting alone to join your table. In fact, Rachel was known to not only invite someone to her lunch table but to move to sit with someone who may have been sitting alone, and by this initiation to include them in a larger conversation that ultimately facilitated friendships.  Following the Rachel’s challenge presentation, many administrators, teachers, and support personnel witnessed this act of kindness happen throughout cafeterias across the entire school district.

At all schools, clubs were founded, Friends of Rachel (FOR) clubs and Kindness clubs.  These clubs had students write how they will be a positive link in the school climate chain.  These links were put together to decorate school lobbies, libraries, cafeterias, and classrooms.  These chains of kindness were a visual reminder to students that they are important and can make a positive impact on the lives of others.

In October 2012, Gaston County Schools partnered with Gastonia Rotary clubs to sponsor a Rachel’s Challenge video contest.  Schools videotaped implementation of club activities, programs, and student interviews to present at the Rotary Leadership program.  The Highland School of Technology won the competition with a student produced video.  The video showed students who had written on their hands that “these hands will touch millions” interspersed with clips of students showing kindness and interviews of students and faculty members answering questions about how Rachel’s Challenge can reduce bullying. In December 2012, high school FOR clubs marched in parades across the district.  The student groups had matching Rachel’s Challenge shirts to show unity among all club members at all schools.  A bus with banners encouraging people to accept Rachel’s Challenge followed the students marching in the parade.

Three years later, Rachel’s challenge continues to actively improve school climate by promoting positive character traits (respect, responsibility, kindness and courage) and reducing bullying incidents.  Schools are more welcoming and Gaston County Schools as a district has seen a subsequent rise in graduation rate and reduction in drop-out rate.  Below is a picture of hearts signed by Highland students displayed in the shape of a hand that can touch millions.

Here are some examples of Rachel’s challenge events across Gaston County Schools:

  • Belmont Central’s Kindness Club works on character education each month.
  • Chapel Grove Elementary school hosts a food drive for families in need during Christmas. The students make handprints and write well wishes and positive messages on the collected bags of food. The counselor supplements this activity with lessons on empathy.
  • Pleasant Ridge Elementary completes a Drumming for Kindness event to emphasize how listening to each other is an act of kindness and a great way to build positive relationships. Below is a picture of the students holding their chain reaction.
  • Belmont Middle School’s FOR members are the student ambassadors who give tours and mentor new students.
  • East Gaston High School FOR club hosts a food drive annually. They also hosted a faculty/student basketball game to raise money to help some students afford basketball camp.
  • The Highland School of Technology FOR partners with the Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) to host a rally on conflict resolution, positive decision-making, and safety (no texting and driving). Students write “I Believe” statements on a banner that is displayed. Below is a picture of hearts signed by Highland students displayed in the shape of a hand that can touch millions.
  • South Point High School incorporates Rachel’s Challenge with Project Unify to bring together students with disabilities with other students and promote acceptance of diverse populations.

 

Dr. Melissa Balknight 

Assistant Superintendent for Student Support Services                           Gaston County Schools

Life on Life Investment: The Value of Mentoring

SEABROOK SAYS: Matt Kuiken is not just the lead pastor at First ARP, he has vast experience with mentoring school kids. When you read his remarks ask: “Now that I know, shall I volunteer as a mentor?

For the first five minutes we stared at one another. His name was Michael. He was a seven year-old African-American student from a single parent home, and he had requested a mentor. So here I was. I had no idea what to do or say. Yet I had committed to spend an hour a week with this child. And so it began – my first foray into mentoring. I look back at that time now and am amazed that somehow, during the ensuing weeks and months, I not only developed a special bond with this young man, but my eyes were opened to the power of mentoring.

Paul Stanley and Robert Clinton, authors of the book Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life, define mentoring as, “A relational process… that facilitates development or empowerment within a mentoree.” In other words, mentoring is an intentional life-on-life investment in another person. For the past fifteen years,  I have been involved in mentoring students and have become convinced that mentoring relationships are a powerful catalyst for community transformation. The essence of the mentoring relationship is to communicate to another person, “You are worth my time,” and to acknowledge that some of the most important lessons in life are caught rather than taught.

There are roughly 32,000 students in the Gaston County School System from K-12. Every year hundreds of Gaston County Students agree to participate in school-based mentoring with an adult volunteer. Tragically, there are almost always more students to be mentored than adults who will mentor them. This has to change. If we truly desire to impact the overall community health of Gaston County, we must be willing to make a life-on-life investment in these student’s lives.

Fran Ellis, who is the Mentor Coordinator for Robinson Elementary School says this, “As a School Counselor, I am convinced that children who have a Mentor are given a gift!  They have one special friend, an adult they can truly count on. Someone who is there to listen and advise them regarding so many important things….Mentors are the saving grace for so many of our students. After developing a real relationship with a student, they teach basics such as making friends, focus in the classroom, using good manners, and keeping your word. This Mentor may be the only adult in their lives who shows them the right path. It is truly a gift which makes all the difference!”

According to recent studies students who meet regularly with a mentor are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school, and 37% less likely to skip a class. Mentored students also are 46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs, and 27% less likely to start drinking. Students in a mentoring relationship experience a reduction in depressive symptoms, and gains in social acceptance, academic attitudes, and grades. The benefits of mentoring for young people can hardly be overstated.

So why don’t we do it? Many of us feel like we don’t have much to offer. Or, we may be insecure about how we would relate to a student from a different race, religion, family background, or socio-economic class. Oftentimes, I simply wonder if I’m too busy to make this commitment. In some regards these are all valid concerns. But then I think of the mentors who took time to invest in me. I think of the conversation I had with one student about his father’s imprisonment. I think of a time with another student where he asked me how to shake hands with an adult. I think of another student who asked me if I thought he had what it takes to be an auto mechanic one day. I have continually been amazed at the impact that can be made by simply showing up.

So would you consider mentoring a student in the Gaston County School System? The commitment involves a simple approval process and one hour a week during the school year. The need is too great and the benefits too significant to ignore this opportunity.

In the coming weeks I will challenge First ARP Church to provide all of the needed mentors for the York Chester Middle School, which sits in our own backyard. My hope is that other churches and individuals will get involved in mentoring as well.

\ If you would like to get involved with mentoring in the Gaston County School System you can contact any school and ask to speak to the Mentor Coordinator. You can also contact Valerie Yatco who is the Director of Business and Community Partnerships for Gaston County Schools (vayatko@gaston.k12.nc.us). Community transformation happens one life at a time. Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” I am convinced by one of the most productive and meaningful ways to live is to give of ourselves in mentoring relationships.

Matt Kuiken
Senior Pastor
First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

Gaston Can Be Great Again

On April 27, 2014, The Charlotte Observer ran an article showing the growth of Mecklenburg and surrounding counties during the last 3 years. Mecklenburg grew 7.3%, Union 5.2%, Cabarrus 4.8%, York 5.5% and Gaston 1.6%. I asked “How could that be”? Gaston County is the most beautiful county in the Piedmont, with rivers, lakes and mountains. It is located on three major highways and is convenient to Charlotte and the airport. It has good schools, abundant water and sewer capacity, available buildings and an able work force. Gastonia has been an all-American city three times. I set out to try to determine why Gaston County is doing so poorly. I quickly found out that most of the growth that Gaston County has experienced is limited to Belmont, Cramerton and Mount Holly, with areas west of those towns actually losing population.

Here is what else I found:

1. Gaston County has a reputation throughout Metrolina as a rough place. For many years, Gaston County was infamous for its violent crime and that image still prevails in Mecklenburg County. I have been with citizens and realtors from Mecklenburg County and when they discover I am from Gastonia, you can detect a slight snicker.

2. Gaston County has failed to latch onto the Mecklenburg and Charlotte bandwagon. When textiles were king in Gaston County, we could afford to be independent, but with the demise of the textile industry, our future is tied to the future of Charlotte. Other towns around Charlotte have recognized this and have taken off. Just observe the growth in Rock Hill, Mooresville, Huntersville, Monroe, Mint Hill, etc.

3. Gaston County, and especially Gastonia, have very onerous building restrictions, overzealous inspections and high and discriminatory fees against developers. I have heard many developers say they will never do business in Gastonia again.

4. Our government leaders, on the local and state level, have failed to grasp some major growth opportunities that have been available to Gaston County, e.g. The Garden State Parkway, major corporate offices (Parkdale and others) in downtown Gastonia, and the Harris Teeter shopping area to name a few. I realize that controversy accompanies some of these projects but most progress brings controversy.
What can we do in the future to assure that Gaston County gets its share of the growth? We have 2 ways to proceed – attract new jobs in the manufacturing sector and be a major residential area for Charlotte workers.

I suggest the following:

1. Our leaders, government and business, should meet and communicate regularly with Charlotte leaders and realtors. Let them know the qualities of Gaston County, dispel any adverse impressions and urge them to invest in the future of Gaston County. A promotional film, if one does not exist, would be helpful. I know it is difficult to get Charlotte realtors to consider Gastonia, since a $250,000 house in Gastonia would sell for $400,000 in Charlotte (a recent observer article put the average home price in Gaston County at $147,134 with Mecklenburg being $261,414), but Gaston County offers a more affordable and relaxing way of life than Charlotte. We just have to convince the realtors.

2. Without sacrificing quality, abolish all harsh and unnecessary regulations, fees and inspections. Develop a reputation as pro-growth and publicize to businesses and developers that Gaston County wants you and is open to business.

3. Seize or at least seriously consider every opportunity for growth, realizing that most decisions carry some controversy. We have made some positive investments in preserving downtown Gastonia and the Firestone Mill, but these expenditures have not led to job growth. Future expenditures should have the primary purpose of promoting growth, i.e. water and sewer extension down Union Road and New Hope Road and working to get the P & N commuter train to Charlotte.

4. Develop a coordinated plan through the economic development commission, the Chamber of Commerce and the newly formed Gaston Development Corporation to sell Gaston County as the place to live and do business. Since textiles are returning to the U.S., Gaston County should compete for this market. We still have a trained work force and many empty mills. We also have an advantage in recruiting metal and plastic fabrication. Tax incentives, through our state and municipal governments, are also necessary to seriously compete.
In the last few months, I have noticed a renewed awareness of this problem among our elected officials and community leaders. Now is the time for all of us to show the world what a great place Gaston County is.

Charlie Gray
Attorney
Gray, Layton, Kersh, Solomon, Furr, and Smith

Disrupting the Effects of Poverty on the Young Child’s Brain

Growing up poor can be devastating for children. Their home environments are often unpredictable and uncertain. They can’t always count on nourishing food at mealtimes or relief from an earache or a painful cough by getting quality health care. Their parents are often unable to offer them a childhood that is nurturing and that fosters attachment and a sense of security. Age-appropriate learning materials, adult/child conversation and an attachment to books may be missing in these homes. Due to all of these factors and others, children from impoverished homes are under constant stress. These conditions, often beginning in infancy and continuing throughout toddlerhood and the early childhood years, result in children entering kindergarten lacking the prerequisite skills necessary for success. In particular, studies show that language development is affected. Studies tell us that children from low socio-economic environments suffer as much as a 30 million word gap at kindergarten when compared with their peers from middle and upper income homes. This means that children from disadvantaged environments speak and understand fewer words. This language deficiency continues and even widens as children progress through the grades. School is a language rich environment and children need to understand and process the spoken and written word in order grow and development. There is now ample scientific evidence that explains why poverty is so detrimental to young children and why it can lead to more poverty.

During the process of human development the brain expands at its most rapid rate during the years of infancy, toddlerhood and the early childhood years. Young brains need to experience stimulation, emotional attachment and healthy social interactions in the early years in order to lay the foundations for later school learning, a healthy sense of self and positive social relationships. Poverty alters the young child’s brain by reducing the number of brain cells in areas of the brain that help with memory, language and emotions all of which play a major role in learning. Researchers tell us that young children exposed to poverty have smaller brain volumes than children not living in poverty. By the age of three, for example, the pathways in the language area of the brain associated with vocabulary development are well established. If by age three children have not been enriched with language building activities that enhance these pathways, they may have difficulty building and developing vocabulary later on. They may also lack the persistence, desire and self-regulation skills needed to attend to learning. Happily there are measures that can be taken within communities to disrupt the damage that poverty inflicts on young children thereby interrupting what has become intergenerational poverty.

To disrupt the effects of poverty on children, communities around the country have invested in a variety of programs. In some cases agencies have trained practitioners to make weekly home visits during the early months of life to teach parents about nurturing parent behaviors that ensure healthy attachments between children and their parents. In other communities high quality educare programs have been established. These programs care for the very young but also engage them in learning practices suitable to the age of the child. There is often a parent education program attached. Others have weekly programs at locations such as libraries, churches or community centers where parents bring their infants and toddlers and learn how to use appropriate educational materials with their children. These programs teach parents how to read to babies and toddlers. Many of these early childhood initiatives have been researched so communities wishing to embark on one or more of these interventions will find ample evidence for implementation. Often agencies of various kinds come together in a community to guide the development of these practices. A needs assessment is usually completed and then the representatives from agencies and community organizations determine what kinds of services are needed to address the problem of educating children with the greatest need. Communities may offer many kinds of programs so parents can select one that meets their needs. High quality must characterize both the training of those who work with parents and children and in the selection and implementation of the program. Too often we try to do this on the cheap and the results are inadequate.

Poor children have few advocates and little voice in their circumstances. They depend upon caring and compassionate adults to speak and advocate for them. Many social service agencies and other community groups are working hard to meet the needs of these children and their families but the case loads are heavy and the need is great. In a recent report before the Gaston County School Board, it was reported that about 50% of children who entered kindergarten in Gaston County this fall did not have all the skills needed to begin school. Investing in quality early childhood programs has shown benefits. Studies show that these children have increased cognitive abilities, are more healthy, have fewer social and emotional problems, and cost local, state and federal governments less money when compared with children from similar socio-economic backgrounds who have not benefitted from high quality infant, toddler and preschool programs. Investing in human development at the very earliest stages of life is one of the best investments Gaston County can make.

Marilyn E. Mecca, Ph.D. Child Development and Early Childhood Education
Professor Emeritus, Lander University, Greenwood, SC; Resident of Gastonia.