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Claudia Barrett: Investing together for our next generation

Claudia Barrett: Investing together for our next generation

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“Early childhood education has been stated to be the most effective economic development tool available to states. It’s time to address this, or we will fall further behind our neighboring states and our international competitors.”

— Richard Alexander

As we continue to navigate the current pandemic, business leader Richard Alexander’s words seem more important now than ever before. The burden placed on economic and educational systems continues to deepen and young children fall further behind. The time is now to invest in programs that create opportunities for our youngest North Carolinians to learn, grow and thrive.

Our community must work together to address the growing educational crisis. The environments we create and the experiences we provide for young children and their families affect not just the developing brain, but also many other physiological systems. Health, beginning with the future mother’s well-being before she becomes pregnant, strengthens developing biological systems that enable children to thrive and grow up to be healthy, productive adults. As a member of the Pre-K Priority Steering Committee, I fully support universal pre-K, but believe that we must acknowledge that parents are their child’s first best teacher and positive parenting support, and education must begin even before a child is born.

Over the last 51 years, Imprints Cares has created a comprehensive portfolio of services that address poverty through positive parenting, improve the social drivers of health and enhance opportunities for children and their families to reach their full potential. Our organization focuses on two areas: school readiness through our Ready for School Programs and before- and after-school programming, and summer enrichment camps through our Expanded Learning Program.

When the current health crisis began last spring, Imprints Cares Expanded Learning pivoted to provide instructional support to children of essential workers. Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools partnered with us to open six sites within local elementary schools where we served 125 families. We then offered summer enrichment in six locations, serving more than 400 children.

In August, through a shared collaboration with Love Out Loud, which convened our faith community, a grant awarded through the COVID-19 Relief Fund, World in Winston, United Way of Forsyth County and many individual donors, we opened 11 E-Learning Enrichment Centers, five of which were tuition-free. Through this community effort, we offered remote learning instruction to 476 students and provided $780,000 in scholarships to students facing the highest risk for academic failure.

Oh, and did I mention we achieved all of this without a COVID spread?

Recognized as a leader in the field of early childhood development and parental support, Imprints Care is a Parents as Teachers Blue Ribbon affiliate with a decadeslong history of partnering with stakeholders and leveraging community assets to build authentic relationships with parents designed to improve family outcomes. Parents as Teachers is an international evidence-based home visitation model focused on equipping parents with the tools they need to raise children who are emotionally, physically and academically ready for school.

Imprints Cares Ready for School programs have provided uninterrupted services since the pandemic began. Family educators engage with families through personal visits virtually or by phone. Throughout the pandemic, our family educators have remained connected with 95% of their families. As families remained isolated, we added additional check-ins to ensure they have the resources and support they need. Our community again rallied behind these efforts and thanks to local groups, we delivered 16,000 diapers, 400 masks and over 500 food boxes to families in greatest need.

I applaud Don Flow’s Feb. 13 guest column (“The case for N.C. education investments”) and join him in asking our state legislators to create opportunities that enable individuals to be contributing citizens of our state. We are better together; it is the only way we will strengthen community-based networks of services for families, primary health care for children and their caregivers, and early care and education programs. There is no better investment, especially now if we truly want to foster the healthy development of our next generation.

Claudia Barrett is the executive director of Imprints Cares.

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