By Tyre Carmon, senior psychology major at William Peace University.
Editors Note: A big thank you to Tyre Carmon, who joined us this semester as a Research and Policy Intern. As Tyre completed his internship, he prepared this blog about what he learned during his time at NC Child.
As a child growing up in the little town of Robersonville, North Carolina, my peers and I did not have access to the same high quality education that’s available in wealthier counties in the state. However, I was able to overcome many stumbling blocks by what I was taught by my grandparents. My grandmother and grandfather taught me important things like respect for adults, how to write letters of the alphabet, and how to ride my bike safely. My grandparents helped me to become prepared for school before I was old enough to walk through the school doors, so I was able to be successful in elementary, middle, and high school.
Not every child has grandparents like mine, and those children shouldn’t be allowed to fall through the cracks. That’s why it’s so important for North Carolina to provide all children with essential stepping-stones to success through high-quality early learning opportunities, safe, stable neighborhoods and access to health care. Every child deserves opportunities to start school ready to learn equipped with the knowledge and skills that lead to future academic success, regardless of where they live.
I was interested in an internship with NC Child because I wanted to see how public policy supporting children’s success is made and reinforced. It seems like there are few more important issues on our state’s agenda.
I’ve learned a lot about the interrelationships between school readiness and the early experiences children have in their homes and communities during the first few years of life. Safe, stable and nurturing environments, supportive parents or caregivers, and high-quality early learning opportunities all help set the stage for future learning, laying a strong foundation for the knowledge, skills, and behaviors children need to participate and succeed in school.
Just as positive strong, supportive environments can lay the foundation for future success, adverse experiences during the early years of a child’s life can cause developmental damage that is a barrier to learning. When children have ongoing exposure to stressful or traumatic experiences, such as abuse, neglect and a range of household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence, exposure to substance abuse, mental illness, parental discord, or crime in the home or community, it can make them more likely to fall behind in school. The negative effects of ongoing stress at home will be carried on through their middle and high school years as well.
As NC Child Senior Policy Advisor Rob Thompson recently blogged, “a study out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that growing up in severe poverty—in environments that are more likely to be unpredictable and unstable, where access to quality health care and child care are out of reach, and where nutrition is more likely to be compromised—can put children at a lifelong disadvantage.
The findings do not mean that these children are lost causes. In fact, the science also points us toward proven solutions. We know that when we provide all children with stable, nurturing relationships and experiences early in life, we can mitigate poverty’s negative impact on brain architecture and pour a strong foundation for children’s future growth and learning.”
We can’t give children grandparents like mine, but as a state we could provide vouchers for high-quality child care for all low-income children and provide universal access to pre-K, both proven ladders to academic success. The most recent State budget goes part of the way toward achieving those goals. We have recently learned that the state has achieved a record high enrollment of 95 percent of all children in health insurance, thanks largely to Medicaid and the Child Health Insurance Program, as well as the Affordable Care Act. If the state were to create its own health insurance program to close the insurance gap for adults, it’s very likely we would be able to enroll the final 5 percent.
The most important thing I think I’ve learned in the last few months is that we are not helpless when it comes to helping children cope with a difficult start in life. If we give children the means to be successful in their growing lives, we might have the happy problem of finding enough post-high school educational opportunities for all of them.