By Priscilla Rodriguez | m/Oppenheim Media Writer
In the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, at least one-third of children are living at or below poverty level, and in the meantime few are receiving the kind of social, emotional and educational foundation in their years before pre-K and elementary, to succeed in school and have opportunities for better futures.
During the day, when low-income families are away from home and working long hours to make ends meet, children are left under the supervision of daycare centers that often don’t offer them stimulating learning experiences during their most critical growth years.
“Child Care centers are not always helpful and can be harmful at times,” says John Breitfeller, Executive Director of the northern Dallas nonprofit, Educational First Steps.
“They can be places where cooperation and other social emotional benefits don’t happen and they offer absolutely no academic foundation so that when [children] reach their local public school, they’re lost.”
Educational First Steps therefore looks to solve that problem, creating exceptional learning spaces for toddlers and children by transforming childcare centers in at-risk neighborhoods in Texas into high quality, nationally accredited learning centers.
The organization works with over 100 child care centers, training and equipping caretakers and guiding the centers toward improvement, which in turn serves nearly 6,000 children from the ages of zero to five, every year.
“We have a program that takes these centers from being inadequate with children, and within 3 years, in the worst neighborhoods of Dallas and Fortworth, these centers become nationally recognized for being superior early childhood programs — as good as the private school programs,” says Breitfeller.
These high quality centers then become important, reliable resources for families and children.
Nowhere else in the country, he explains, is there an organization that lifts daycare centers from the poorest neighborhoods up to the same standards as upper-class child care centers that prepare children to have bright futures.
Local daycare centers that once were on the brink of closing indefinitely are then transformed through the programs of Educational First Steps, and are on their way to be recognized for their excellence by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Accreditation Commission of Early Care and Education (NAC).
Educational First Steps also provides services for licensed at-home caregivers, which are often caring for up to 12 children at a time.
“They are smaller, but because they are smaller there is no one helping them to get any professional development to better serve their children…they’re just forgotten,” says Breitfeller, explaining that Educational First Steps reaches about 600 children every year through at-home caregivers.
During the critical growth period between the ages of zero to five, children’s brains are quickly developing social and emotional intelligence, they’re developing language and communication skills, and they are developing their characters, explains Breitfeller, who has been involved in the education sector for more than 15 years and who says that missing out on learning opportunities during these key years could be detrimental to a child’s future.
Children who have an opportunity at a great education from the start “understand that learning is an awesomely cool thing, understood that teachers are safe people who love them, and they have the right foundations in mathematics and reading, by the time they reach 3rd and 4th grade,” says Breitfeller.
“The first time I visited a poverty center that wasn’t on our program we found that these are marvelous children, smart children, they’re enthusiastic, but the programs they’re in waste their talents and don’t set them up for success,” he says.
But the dedication and delivery of Educational First Steps has helped thousands of children from the lowest income neighborhoods of Texas and with highly diverse backgrounds to achieve their full potential by equipping them with great educational opportunities, right from the start.