Smart Beginnings for Our Children

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by Emma Young

Within the first four years of life, children from low-income households are exposed to 30 million fewer words compared to children from high-income households, according to researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley in The American Educator. The researchers found that reading comprehension, vocabulary and language development measures taken at age 3 were highly correlated with, and predictive of, performance at age 9 and 10, implying that this 30 million word gap has lifelong consequences.

Through its obesity prevention program, Smart Beginnings is enabling Cougar Elementary School teacher Cherie Warren to do healthy activities with students, like gardening and classroom exercising.

Through its obesity prevention program, Smart Beginnings is enabling
Cougar Elementary School teacher Cherie Warren to do healthy
activities with students, like gardening and classroom exercising.

Enter Smart Beginnings Greater Prince William (SBGPW), a public-private partnership between businesses, childcare providers, schools, not-for-profits and other community institutions. The coalition works with the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation to “raise awareness of the importance of early childhood and increase kindergarten readiness in Greater Prince William,”according to SBGPW Director Kendra Kielbasa.

“While there are many aspects to early childhood, we focus on three overarching areas of impact: literacy awareness,
comprehensive health and increasing access to quality early learning opportunities,” said Kielbasa.

For Smart Beginnings, literacy readiness starts at a young age through a Books 4 Babies program. “Since October 2013, each child born at Novant Health Prince William Medical Center [in Manassas] receives a quality book, a developmental wheel which provides…milestones from [age]one-month through five years and a bookmark that highlights the benefits and how-to’s of reading to babies, beginning at birth,” said Kielbasa. “All of these materials are offered in a parent’s choice of English or Spanish.”

Kielbasa said her organization expanded Books 4 Babies to include expectant parents, providing the same resources to CenteringPregnancy™ participants at the Greater Prince William Health Center’s Woodbridge and Manassas locations, which accept both fully insured and uninsured patients.

Recognizing health as critical for proper development and learning ability as well, Smart Beginnings also focuses on
developmental screening and childhood obesity prevention. Through a collaborative grant with the Centers for Disease Control and Nemours, Smart Beginnings recently started an obesity prevention program in 15 area childcare facilities.

“I am very excited and very passionate about the health of young children and am motivated to be a part of this wonderful opportunity with Smart Beginnings,” enthused Cherie Warren, a Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) Pre-K teacher at Cougar Elementary School in Manassas Park.

Along with VPI teacher Brittany Jackson, and the support of Principal Pam Terry, Warren said she plans on incorporating “some planting, eating, and exercising in our VPI classrooms,” growing a vegetable garden at the school with students. Warren said that together they’ll harvest the produce and make healthy recipes such as salsa.

The program will also work to “improve in the areas of physical exercise and gross motor development,” said Warren.
“SBGPW is thrilled to bring this program to the community,”

Kielbasa stated. To learn more about Smart Beginnings Greater Prince William visit smartbeginningsgpw.org.

Emma Young is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mother in Dumfries. She can be reached at eyoung@princewilliamliving.com.

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