OP-ED: Early childhood education impacts parents, too | By William Strength

Sometimes lessons come from the most unexpected places. It’s natural to associate early learning programs with the growth and development of children, but what about parents? That is my story.

My young life was spent between two impoverished homes, rife with addiction. My mother was a gambling addict who played away all our money at the casino, despite the lack of food in the house. My father fostered a drug habit that often turned him violent and left no financial resources for food. He was arrested many times for violent crimes and drugs. As such, my school-aged life was spent on the move with little regard given to my education.

After dropping out of high school at the beginning tenth grade, I began to get into trouble myself. I was in and out of jail and couldn’t retain a job—much less grow a career. But, after meeting my wife and having two daughters of my own, I realized I wanted something better for them. Head Start, an early childhood education program serving 60 Idaho communities, gave me the opportunity I needed to change the path I was on and help create the best future possible for my daughters.

Through Head Start, I learned that ages 0-5 are the most developmentally important years of a child’s life. Enormous linguistic, conceptual, social, emotional, and motor competence skills are developed during this time. I also learned that children who go through quality early learning programs, like Head Start, are less likely to drop out of high school, be retained a grade or end up in a juvenile correction system. Early exposure to chronic stress, abuse or neglect can harm a child’s development and ability to learn. Not only does this expand the drastic difference in grades, comprehension and test scores, but also translates into a widening range of income levels for Idaho.

Because of the impact I could see programs like Head Start having on the community, my own family and even on myself—I wanted to get more involved. I now serve in the role of Vice-Chairperson for father involvement program, SuperDads, for the Pocatello/Chubbuck Head Start. I haven’t seen a jail cell in a decade. I earned my GED and enrolled in college. My wife became a Head Start teacher and we no longer live on government assistance. My daughters are eager and excited learners.

I know how important early learning is because it was not a priority in my family when I was young. What I didn’t know is that your child’s early development can have a profound impact on your growth as a parent.