Directing Children Toward Faith, Family and Value
Pastor Dave Hughey offers his support of the Arkansas Better Chance program
As a pastor, I know that there are few callings as high in life as shaping young children to see the beauty of God’s world. Every young man or woman’s future is filled with possibility, and we have the opportunity to direct them toward a path of faith, family and value.
Yet, across the state of Arkansas, too many of our children are growing up unprepared to be productive citizens and lead their families. Troubling situations at home cause them to start behind in life and we are letting them fall even further behind in the perpetual cycle of poverty. These children are more likely to end up on the wrong side of God’s plan, with an unenviable future of drugs, violence and unemployment. High-quality early education programs, however, can greatly increase chances of success in school and later in life and also foster the necessary skills to be caring spouses and parents.
I know this based on research and my own perspective as a father. One of my most vivid memories is the day when my oldest son first spoke. I have learned that by six months old, babies begin to understand the link between words and their meanings. This sets the stage for language development and later reading, which are key to school success. Yet children from different backgrounds have very different experiences.
High-quality early education programs can greatly increase children’s chances of success in school and later in life while fostering the necessary skills to be caring spouses and parents.
Pastor Dave Hughey
Researchers observed children in their own homes every month for over two years, until the age of 3, and recorded how many words their parents spoke to them. There were also large differences in the average number of words spoken to the children by professional parents, working class parents, and parents receiving welfare. By age 3, children with professional parents had average vocabularies that were almost 600 words larger than children of parents receiving welfare. These vocabulary deficits catch up to at-risk children, and by kindergarten, too many are far behind not only in vocabulary development, but also in pre-literacy and pre-math skills, such as knowing the alphabet or being able to count to 10.
A study of the Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program found meaningful impacts on children’s early language, pre-literacy, and pre-math skills. Compared to students not in the program, the at-risk four-year-olds participating in ABC were four months ahead in vocabulary, had a 37 percent increase in pre-math scores and answered 23 percent more questions correctly on a literacy test after one year.
And consider this: A study of the high-quality Perry Preschool Program in Michigan found that girls who attended the pre-K program were five times more likely to be married and living with their husbands by age 27 than similar girls not in the program. The girls attending the program also had one-third fewer births outside of marriage. Boys not enrolled in the Perry program were found by age 40, to be 63 percent more likely to have fathered children they did not raise.
As a state, we are only as strong as our families. I appreciate and support Governor Asa Hutchinson’s proposed increase for the state’s ABC program, and encourage additional investments. Many Evangelical pastors and ministry leaders in Arkansas agree that high-quality early education is necessary to build resilient families and create community investment. But to obtain these results, pre-K must be high-quality and Arkansas must continually strive to improve program quality and outcomes for our state.
For the strength and stability of Arkansans, we need to do more—not less—to train up a child in the way he should go.
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