Putting Children First at the White House

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Putting Children First at the White House  12.17.2014

Posted by: Naila Bolus

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From the moment I arrived at the southwest entrance to the White House, I knew it was going to be a great day for early education. In line were dozens of foundation and corporate leaders, researchers, and non-profit executives, all eager to participate in the first-ever White House Summit on Early Education.

Inside, the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building was decked in festive campaign posters and banners, announcing the launch of a new campaign, Invest in US, that challenges corporations, foundations, and individuals to support high-quality early childhood education. Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, upon entering the auditorium for the opening panel quipped, “I’ve been in this room many times and it’s never looked like this!”

The air of celebration continued throughout the day, with endorsements coming from diverse voices: a local sheriff from Ohio, corporate CEOs, mayors, cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, heads of foundations, and more.

The highlight, of course, was President Obama. He has consistently championed high-quality early education in his State of the Union addresses, public speeches, and to Congress – and he’s put the power of the purse behind the rhetoric. Yesterday, the President announced $750 million in new funding for Preschool Development Grants and Early Head Start Child Care Partnership awards. He called early education “one of the best investments we can make,” and claimed it is a “win for everybody.”

I was honored to represent Jumpstart at this landmark event. It is a unique moment in time, both for the field of early education and for our organization. Jumpstart is in the final stages of developing its strategy for the next three years, and it is poised to capitalize on many of the themes raised in yesterday’s Summit, from the importance of early language and social-emotional development, to the need for an effective early education workforce.

As Vice President Biden closed the Summit, he told the audience about an important phrase he remembers his mother repeating: “Children become that what you expect of them.” I immediately thought about Jumpstart Corps member Aimee Turner, a Civil Engineering student at Georgia Tech, who served with Jumpstart for over four years in the same community where she grew up in Atlanta. In a recent speech to a group of Jumpstart supporters she told us, “One of the defining moments in my service with Jumpstart has been reading books about careers. Often times some of my kids would say that they didn’t know what they wanted to be when they grew up. And my goal would always be to tell them about all the things they can be, like flying around the world as a pilot, or saving animals, or going to the moon as an astronaut, or building things and improving the world as an engineer.”

This is a key ingredient of the Jumpstart magic – the trusting relationship that forms between a caring adult and child, which encourages self-esteem, a love of learning, and sets high expectations from day one. Yesterday’s Summit reinforced the message that every child, no matter the zip code of his or her birth, deserves an opportunity to succeed. The 4,300 Jumpstart Corps members around the country, like Aimee Turner, are determined to give children from low-income households that opportunity. “I tell them that they are somebody,” said Aimee, “and they can do anything they want to do.” 

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