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These are hard times to be young in Michigan. The state's youngest learners - those between birth and age 5 - face daunting challenges.
Because of these factors and more, far too many Michigan children - one in three, in fact, according to a recent survey of the state's kindergarten teachers - enter kindergarten with previously unidentified health, social-emotional, developmental or learning problems.
For these children - who all too often are from low-income and/or minority families - not being ready for school becomes a life sentence of poor academic achievement, diminished expectations and limited opportunity.
The Great Start System recognizes that early childhood experiences are most profound in five key areas:
These components make up the Great Start System and it is in these areas that Michigan’s early childhood community is attempting to make system change leading to better outcomes for young children and their families. The status of Michigan’s youngest learners is grim.
It doesn't have to be that way. We know things now about the development of the brain that we didn't know before. We know, for instance, that a stunning 90 percent of a child's brain architecture is formed by age four.
Likewise, we know from numerous studies that children who start school behind tend to stay behind. In fact, children who repeat a grade are 30 percent more likely to drop out, and 90 percent more likely if they repeat two grades.
We know that the first few years of a child's life make all the difference. Experiences in those years - positive or negative - determine intelligence, behavior, and personality.
And finally, from research, we know that early childhood programs, systems and supports - properly supported and implemented - can make a world of difference.
That's why now is so critical. Times were already hard in Michigan, but the particularly brutal economic tsunami currently sweeping the state threatens more children than ever before.
Investing in early childhood is one of the best ways to ensure all of Michigan's children reach kindergarten healthy and eager to learn.