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Flint School District Works With Local University To Expand Early Childhood Education

Registered Nurse Brian Jones draws a blood sample from Grayling Stefek, 5, at the Eisenhower Elementary School, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016 in Flint, Mich. The students were being tested for lead after the metal was found in the city’s drinking water. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) CREDIT: CARLOS OSORIO, AP
Registered Nurse Brian Jones draws a blood sample from Grayling Stefek, 5, at the Eisenhower Elementary School, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016 in Flint, Mich. The students were being tested for lead after the metal was found in the city’s drinking water. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) CREDIT: CARLOS OSORIO, AP

Flint Community Schools is working with the University of Michigan-Flint in the hopes of expanding access to early childhood education programs to 250 students later this year free of cost. The pilot program can enroll 48 children at the moment. The district is also reaching out to foundations since the $150,000 the school district is spending to expand the program will only serve in the short term, Michigan Radio reported.

The expansion of access to the Great Expectations Early Childhood Program at Holmes STEM Academy would expose more children to the Reggio Emilia Approach to education, where students have a more active role in their education and are able to explore the environment around them and ensure parents are involved in the curricula. The program also runs for the entire year, unlike some early childhood programs that only stay open during the school year.

Early childhood education could make a difference for children exposed to lead when Flint’s drinking water became contaminated. Exposure to lead in the years of early childhood is negatively associated with academic achievement later in a child’s academic career, according to a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Public Health. Although an April 2015 Centers for Disease Control paper says there aren’t any available studies showing how children exposed to lead may be specifically affected by early childhood educational interventions, there are studies that show those interventions can help children with other types of conditions comparable to the effects of lead exposure. Research shows early childhood programs can benefit both children with disabilities and children with typical development, the CDC paper asserts.

Unfortunately, few children are accessing early childhood programs and intervention services. Less than 40 percent of 4-year-olds participate in Head Start and the state’s public pre-k program and far fewer (13 percent) 3-year-olds use public programs, Rebecca Ullrich, policy analyst for early childhood policy, and Maryam Adamu, research associate for the early childhood policy team at the Center for American Progress explained in a Medium post about the effects of lead on children. When it comes to early intervention services, only about 150 children and families are using those services.

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This is a crisis that hit children in low-income communities the hardest. Children in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Flint had the greatest increases in elevated blood lead levels from 2013 to 2015, research released earlier this year shows, exacerbating the disadvantages many Flint children are already facing.