As Minnesota lawmakers, early childhood advocates, and nonprofit professionals publicly share their views regarding our state’s need to invest in the early start of our children, I recognize there is a critical voice missing — voices of parents like me.
My two children and I live in a state with educational opportunity gaps that are among the worst in the nation. Research tells us these gaps begin before our children start kindergarten. In the beginning of every school year, 15,400 low-income children enter kindergarten unprepared; this leads to gaps that get worse as our children continue within our educational system. These numbers and statistics are lived realities for many families in my community.
I had severe complications during the birth of my first child and because of those complications, my daughter DaNae experienced brain damage and is hearing impaired. I was 19 years old, confused, scared, and didn’t know where to turn. Thankfully, I had the support of my family and a combination of state-sponsored programs to support my child and me through this traumatic process. When DaNae was a couple of months old, a program by the name of Help Me Grow visited me in my home to provide assistance, information, as well as a speech teacher and a physical therapist to assist with my daughter’s development.
After I returned to work, I realized how expensive child care was as my whole paycheck was going to pay for DaNae’s child-care expenses. The assistance I did have didn’t cover the full cost of care, and was dependent on the job that I had. It was critical and important to me that my child learned and developed in a high quality environment. I applied for a state-sponsored scholarship and was wait listed for a year. Finally, when DaNae was 3 years old, we received a scholarship that would fully cover DaNae’s child-care expenses.
Because of the quality care DaNae has received both inside and outside of her home, she has blossomed into a smart, creative, and social girl. You just can’t help but notice her as soon as she walks in through the door. Today, DaNae attends kindergarten at a French immersion school and is reading above average in French and English. Because my daughter received a scholarship, her little brother, 3-year-old JaMir, automatically received one as well. He attends child care in St. Paul, and is well on his way to following the growth of his sister.
Many families still left out
I am thankful for the support my children and I have received thus far. However, many families like ours are wait listed or simply do not receive assistance for child care. This hurts the well-being of our community. More important, it hurts the well-being of our children. Families need full-day, year-round child care, so parents can pursue career and educational opportunities. Families need child care that reflects their values and culture. Families need child care that will take care of children in a thoughtful way and get them ready for kindergarten.
That is why I am compelled to call on parents to raise our voices and share what our families need. I am also calling on lawmakers and professionals to listen to the voices of parents, to include us in these conversations, and to pass policies and programs that will truly help us.
Now through the end of the legislative session, I am asking parents to join me by making a short social media video about what we need for our children, and posting it with the hashtag #parentvoice. It is time to make sure all of our kids get a good start.
TraNeicia Sylvester, from St. Paul, is a community advocate for teen health and a mother of two children. Six-year-old DaNae is finishing kindergarten, and JaMir, a 3-year-old, attends a child-care center in St. Paul.
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