Our host for this conference, the National Head Start Association, asked me to speak this morning about "Bridging the Gap between Head Start and the Public Schools." This is such an important issue not just for Head Start and the public schools but for all early care and education programs and schools.
The sincerity of our efforts, the depths of our efforts to "Bridge the Gap," may well determine the future success or failure of many of our nation's children.
This bridge looks so long and the water so deep and that is how it has been for many children and their families. But today I am going to discuss with you factual findings and research data that will help to move us forward in the right direction.
1997 was indeed a year to mark in our nation's history for our youngest learners. The media exploded on the scene with powerful images of that which many of us who are parents and who have also committed our professional lives to young children have known all along -- that stimulating brain development in children's earliest years, even before birth, is crucial to their success in life.
We were pleased to see the White House sponsor two conferences -- one on brain development and one on the importance of high-quality child care and early learning experiences for our youngest children.
We were also pleased to co-sponsor another brain development and early learning conference --that brought early childhood educators and neuroscientists together to talk about this new research and how we can use it to help children develop language and literacy.
And why should we as a nation be so concerned about this news? I believe it goes to the very foundation of our country --
"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal... That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights -- And that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
In writing these most famous lines, our forefathers were making a promise to the American people that we are still striving to keep today. For in order for men to be truly free and savor the benefits of liberty -- I deeply believe education MUST be listed among those certain inalienable rights. A high quality education is the right of all Americans and we must help those most in need get their fair share of educational opportunities. If we are to be the protectors of our children's inalienable rights -- and we MUST -- then you and I must seize the unprecedented opportunties that are now before us to change the course of young children's lives.
We cannot afford to leave one child behind. Think about the consequences:
If we wrote off the poor -- we could have written off Abraham Lincoln.
If we left out minorities -- we could have written off Barbara Jordan.
If we left out the disabled -- would could have left out Franklin Delano Roosevelt
If we left out non-English speaking immgrants we would have left out the late CEO of Coca Cola, Roberto Goizueta.
The time is right. We have the attention of the media, we have the support of exemplary leadership at national, state, and local levels, we have readiness goals and buy-in from the early childhood and education community, we have improved resources, although they still are not enough, and we have the knowledge-base and the know how.
A growing body of research offers dramatic evidence that children's earliest experiences with their environment have a profound effect on the development and functioning of the brain. This new information has tremendous ramifications for our roles in determining how well our children will do in their efforts to be high achievers in school.
In our nation, we have unprecedented access to public education. Every man, woman, and child, regardless of background has an opportunity to fully engage in a public education. While in many places our schools are not YET as good as we would like them to be, we are working diligently all around the nation to fill our schools with high expectations and standards for learning, well-trained teachers, adequate books and materials, computers with access to the information superhighway, families who are involved with their children's schools and learning, and children who are prepared for the rigors of a challenging education.
But where do things currently stand in our efforts to ensure the best outcomes for our children? Let's look at a few statistics.
20% of our nation's children are poor which means that about 4.5 million children under the age of 5 live in poor families and the percentages are much higher for African American and Hispanic children
40% of our nation's 3 and 4 year-olds are not enrolled in early learning programs that would help them prepare for school
At current funding levels, Head Start is serving only about 40% of eligible children and many programs are still not full-day programs even though it is estimated that by the year 2000, 70% of women with preschool-age children will be working and in need of full-day services.
The Cost, Quality, and Child Outcomes in Child Care Centers - University of Colorado report states that out of 400 centers visited:
only 14 percent were deemed high quality - the kind of programs that prepare children for learning in a challenging educational environment
81 percent were deemed poor to mediocre quality - those that do a very poor job at building development and learning foundations that help children succeed in school, and
5% were deemed downright dangerous to children's health and safety
For infants and toddlers, where remember, early brain development is critical, the picture is even worse:
Only 1 in 12 infant and toddler rooms was found to provide developmentally appropriate care, and
40% were deemed a potential threat to children's health and safety
In a study by Families and Work Institute of family child care homes:
9% were found to be of good quality
56% were rated as "only adequate," and
35% were rated as "inadequate"
A Government Accounting Office study finds that fully 59% of low-income children are attending early childhood programs that fail to provide the full range of child development, health, and parent services needed to support their school readiness.
If we want our children to develop fully - emotionally, physically, and cognitively, and succeed as students and productive members of our society, we must do better. This shaky foundation we are currently providing is just not good enough.
However, as a result of this wave of new information and public support, the field of early care and education, which includes both child care and early learning programs inside and outside public school settings, is undergoing an evolutionary process of change -- making its way from a series of poor-quality, inaccessible, disconnected services and programs to an accessible, coordinated, coherent, and continuuous system of caring and learning experiences for children birth to age eight and their families. At the core of this new system-building activity is high-quality and a focus on school readiness and success.
What we finally understand and accept is that the foundations for school success are laid early in children's lives. And we're trying to do something about it.
The early childhood years, from birth though age eight, are the most important period for language and literacy development. Experiences throughout these years affect the development of children's literacy skills.
The National Academy of Sciences report says that failing to provide young chidren with varied and rich language and literacy experiences before they reach kindergarten can severely limit the level of reading and writing skills they will ultimately achieve.
In a public education system that is putting high standards in front of every child, attaining educational excellence will not be possible without a strong literacy foundation. As the saying so aptly goes, children must learn to read so that ultimately, by the fourth grade, they are able to read to learn.
Exposure to literacy experiences happens in the home, in the community, in early care and education settings, in preschool programs like Head Start, and in schools. These literacy experiences must take children through an intentional, well-planned process of discovering sounds, symbols (letters), words, and word meanings.
In addition, children must also discover how print works:
that in our mainstream culture, we read from left to right,
from the top of a page to the bottom of the page,
from the front of the book to the back, and
that the meaning of what we are reading is found in the words -- in the letters strung together between the spaces on the page -- and not in the pictures.
For too many of our children, this well-planned literacy development process does not occur and too many of our children reach school already lagging behind their more advantaged peers in their language and literacy skills. Research tells us that fully 20% of our children will have significant difficulties learning how to read and will fail to do so without intense support.
Research on language and literacy development finds that children acquire language through the process of engaging in conversations with adults and that adult education levels are an important factor in how well-developed children's vocabularies are.
On average by age 3, children with parents with professional level educations have a 1,116 word vocabulary versus the 525 word vocabulary of children whose parents have low levels of education.
By age 6, it's projected that the difference can mushroom to 20,000 words for children with professional parents versus 3,000 words for children with the poorly educated parents. This is one of the most powerful and profound statistics I have seen in a long time and clearly magnifies the urgency of our task.
In addition, longitudinal studies are finding that they can predict a child's fourth grade reading ability by the number of words and the child's conversational ability beginning at kindergarten and that the rate at which children acquire new words between kindergarten and grade four is extremely important to school success.
These differences are massively important because they represent not just how many words a child knows, but the kinds of things -- the domains of knowledge-- that the children are familiar with. The things that children know about are a direct result of children's experiences and this is critical because we know that young children learn by building on their experiences. The fewer the experiences, the less context our children will have for learning.
Our nation is ready. By establishing the first National Education Goal as one that supports school readiness for all children, we have indicated our readiness and our willingness to do what is necessary to ensure that we meet that goal. Goal 1, that all children will enter school ready to learn, calls for access to high-quality preschool experiences including family literacy programs, parenting and adult education, and health care for all families and children.
Many states have also adopted readiness goals and to back up their commitment, are investing increased resources in early care and education programs that include such activities as:
expanding and improving the quality of Head Start and child care programs,
implementing universal and targeted prekindergarten initiatives, and
providing early intervention services including comprehensive family literacy services, for infants and toddlers and their parents.
Readiness is definitely a two-way street. Schools also have a responsibility to be ready for children's learning. This is critical to ensuring that the development and learning gains that children make in their early childhood years are sustained and enhanced when they reach the public school setting.
Children grow and develop as individuals along a continuum and no two children will develop at exactly the same pace or arrive at the schoolhouse door with the same level or type of skills, even though they may be the same chronological age. Ready schools are prepared to meet the learning needs of individual children in developmentally appropriate preschools, kindergarten, and primary grade learning environments.
This means that elementary schools, -- of which there are about 54,000 elementary schools that receive Title I funding and which are the schools that most of our Head Start and other low-income children will eventually attend -- must address such issues as:
meeting the cultural and language requirements of an increasingly diverse early childhood and student population
early learning benchmarks -- what young children should know and be able to do so that we can be clear across the field of early care and education about what young children should be learning in order to meet the more rigorous learning standards they will face when they reach the upper elementary grades,
early childhood sensitive assessment and accountability systems and practices -- to be able to follow children's development and learning and improve teaching and learning practices to ensure that they meet the needs of young learners,
standards of progress so that we can hold schools and districts accountable for children's learning in the earliest grades,
parental education and involvement so that parents can continue to support their childrens development and learning as they enter public school settings,
appropriate early childhood teacher preparation and certification for their preschool and primary grade programs, and
effective transition plans that link children and families, practitioners and educators, programs and schools -- making sure that children are ready for school and schools are ready for children -- and that the experience of transition promotes continuity and is a comfortable and successful experience for all.
Ready schools advocate for and in many cases are providing high-quality preschool experiences for our most vulnerable 3 and 4-year-olds:
those whose primary language is other than English,
those whose families are poor and in many cases, undereducated, and
those who have or are at risk of developmental delays and disabilities.
The ready school has strong linkages to families in its neighborhood and its "feeder" early childhood programs that include stay-at-home parents, center-based, home-based, and school-based early childhood programs.
And because learning (and un-learning during the long summer breaks) takes place during all of children's waking hours, schools must take a shared responsibility, along with families, and other community partners, for children's care and learning during the sunrise hours, the sunset hours, weekends, holidays, and summers, when they're on the playground, at home, and in their neighborhoods and communities.
Readiness develops as a result of children's early childhood experiences - including:
having nurturing and responsive relationships with adult caregivers who engage them in complex conversations that stimulate thinking and language development,
receiving adequate nutrition and health care,
having opportunities for learning, developing, and mastering new skills,
engaging in child's play that includes positive interactions with peers and adults,
exposure to music, art, and movement activities,
many other everyday living experiences, both intentional and informal, and
living and attending early childhood programs and schools in violence- and drug-free environments,
Children are growing, developing, and learning throughout their entire childhoods. It is the timing, intensity, and quality of these early childhood experiences that determines how ready children will be for school. Children need a wide range of positive interactions and learning experiences within their environment in order to grow up healthy, excited about learning, and ready for school.
And families, especially low-income families, need a tremendous amount of support in order to provide the most optimal conditions for helping their children grow, develop, and learn to the high levels that have become the nation's education mantra - educational excellence.
This phrase -- educational excellence -- is more than just words, especially to our most vulnerable children. I use it because I believe in its message and I hope that all of you do too. But for our children, in the most serious way, attainment of educational excellence can mean the difference between:
welfare or chronic unemployment and a meaningful, well-paying job or career,
dropping out of school and completing high school and going on to college or an alternative postsecondary educational experience,
the gang life and a real family life, and
a prison nightmare and the American Dream.
Given all that you've heard this morning, it is profoundly evident that the foundation for educational excellence is clearly laid out in the early years -- the years before and immediately after school entry.
I know I'm preaching to the choir, but we have an obligation to cherish all of our children. As some wise person whom I unfortunately cannot remember recently stated, the children may only seem to be a small part of our nation's population, but they are 100% of our future. Given this, we cannot afford to leave one single child behind. Everyone's future depends on it.
Let me tell you what we are currently doing at the federal level and then we'll talk about where we need to be headed.
Technically speaking, there are currently lots of opportunities to make the legislative technicalities a reality. Indeed, although its not enough given the great need, 2% of preschool children, that's about 192,000 children, received preschool services through Title I in FY1997. Another 45,000 families received family literacy services through Even Start's nearly 750 programs across the nation.
Opportunities for building bridges between Title I districts and schools and Head Start, Even Start, and other early childhood and family literacy programs appear in the law in planning and program requirements, child eligibility criteria, and in allowable uses of funding.
For instance, there are several ways preschool programs can be funded under Title I Part A:
School districts may operate a preschool program that serves children districtwide or in a a portion of the district OR they can distribute funds to specific Title I schools to operate individual school programs.
Local education agencies can use Title I funds to operate their own preschool programs including Head Start and Even Start programs or they can offer the programs by contracting out directly with Head Start, Even Start, or other comparable public early childhood development programs to provide the services
Local education agency plans must describe how they will coordinate and integrate their regular education program services with such programs as Head Start and Even Start, including plans for transitions to the elementary school
Local education agency plans must assure that their districts will consider model educational programs that have been shown to be most effective when focused on students in the earliest grades
And beginning with the 1997 school year, schools who offer preschool programs must comply with important aspects of the Head Start performance standards except those programs that are using the Even Start model program
Schoolwide plans require strategies for assisting preschool children in the transition from early childhood programs to the local elementary school
Both Schoolwide and Targeted Assistance School Programs must increase parental involvment including activities such as family literacy activities
Children who participate in Even Start and Head Start programs are automatically eligible for Title I Programs for two additional years
In targeted assistance schools, selection of children in pre-kindergarten to grade two will be made solely using appropriate early childhood measures
Targeted assistance schools must coordinate and support the regular education program which may include services to assist preschool children in transition from early childhood programs to elementary school programs
Local education agencies must reserve a minimum of 1% to carry out parental involvement activities that can include family literacy
And if other sources have been exhausted, Title I funds may be used to provide literacy training for parents
Additionally, local education agencies and schools must coordinate parent involvement with Head Start, Even Start, HIPPY, and PAT. They may also adopt model program approaches including Even Start, and shall conduct activities that help parents learn about child development and rearing beginning at birth and that are designed to help parents become full partners in their children's education.
Addresses joint training with Head Start and Even Start staff.
In general, local education agencies shall carry out transition-related activities --
To the extent feasible and appropriate to the circumstances including the extent a local education agency is able to secure cooperation of parents and Head Start agencies, and other early childhood development programs including:
Programs that serve young children need information and training to help our children develop their literacy skills. The NICHD research supports ED's America Reads Challenge which is reaching out to our youngest children and their families, caregivers and educators with information and materials to help them build the skills and literacy awareness they need to help our children engage in early literacy activities that will eventually help them learn to read and write well.
New legislation proposed for both Head Start and child care contain new language around learning and provisions that will help improve the quality of their programs. There is also language that requires coordination of efforts between the BIG THREE - Head Start, child care, and the public schools.
There used to be a time in the early childhood community when we couldn't talk about young children and learning or young children and education -- so it's great progress to see language in early childhood legislation that talks about helping young children get ready for school. And we haven't forgotten about how important it is for schools to be ready for all children.
So how do we bridge this gap between Head Start and the public schools and make this continuum of early childhood development and learning programs work in a way that:
allows us to provide full-day, full-year, high-quality early childhood and preschool programs for increasing numbers of children, that prepare them for the challenges of a formal learning environment
ensures that schools offer welcoming environments and developmentally appropriate kindergarten and primary grade programs to its youngest learners --
supports the professionalization of the early childhood field and provides early childhood educators with the skills and know how to support children's early language and literacy development -- and
supports parents' efforts to also be learners and supporter's of their children's learning across the early learning continuum?
Albert Einstein, one of our most brilliant scientists who, by the way, was thought in his early years to have significant cognitive dificiencies instead of the genius he turned out to be, said that "The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them."
And while I would not necessarily couch the challenges that face us as problems -- I like to think of them more as uncommon opportunities to make big differences in the lives of young children and their families -- the work that is ahead of us will not be a piece of cake.
And if we always do what we've always done, we'll always get what we've always gotten. In other words, nothing will change.
We know that the work we have ahead of us -- building bridges between early childhood programs and the public schools -- is not a short-term proposition. And the answers to the dilemmas we face as we go about this work are hard and complicated - let's be real about this. If they weren't, we would have figured it out long ago. We also know that change is difficult.
As we go about this work, we must take risks and discover new strategies rather than defend the strategies of the past. We must encourage new thinking rather than blindly accept the old ways.
There are those who say that when we do this, when we test new strategies, we are stirring up a hurricane on the surface -- but underneath, the water is still murky. I pray that it isn't so -- but if it is, we must change our course.
This reminds me of a story I heard recently.
It's the story of a U.S. ship and its captain. The radar officer announces to the captain, "Blip on the radar screen, dead ahead sir."
The captain says, "Tell that ship to turn 15 degrees star board at once."
The radar officer sends the signal and the response comes back: "You move 15 degrees."
The irate captain says, "Tell him again. Move over 15 degrees to the starboard."
And the response comes back, again: "You move 15 degrees."
The captain grabs the radio himself and says, "This is the captain of the greatest ship on the high seas. Move to the starboard 15 degrees at once."
And the answer comes back: "This is the lighhouse..."
I like this story for the simple point it makes: there comes a time when captains -- and countries -- need to change course. In fact, we must change our course if we are to reach our destination.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said it quite nicely: "The greater thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in where we are going."
You are the captains of the most important ships on the high seas.
And you can either steer, row, or abandon ship.
I suggest you do less rowing and more steering -- abandoning ship is not an option.
And to make things harder, the seas are pretty rough right now. Even though we have lots of support for the work we are doing, we still face some daunting challenges :
We have major pieces of legislation before Congress that impact our work including Head Start, Even Start, child care, and Title I with no guarantee that they will survive intact or with the improvements that would support our expansion and quality improvement efforts,
We are in the throes of welfare reform with many of our former welfare families "missing in action," and more children than ever in need of high quality early childhood programs and services as their mothers and fathers enter the workforce,
School reform efforts -- that while underway with some states having made significant changes that are beginning to show early improvements in student achievement -- still have far to go, especially in their work with their youngest students,
We are still failing for the most part to ensure that our early childhood programs -- at the very least -- provide safe and healthy environments for our most vulnerable children and --- at the very best -- provide optimal conditions for helping children grow, develop, and learn.
But don't give up the ship! While we bravely and strategically face our challenges, we should also celebrate our accomplishments:
early childhood has arrived in this country -- we no longer have to hide our struggle for high quality programs and services for children and families in the family closet,
our schools are slowly improving,
although we need more and what we currently have is not guaranteed, we have major federal-level investments in a range of early care and education programs that we can use to create our system and its birth to age eight continuum of care and learning experiences,
we have CHIP - the new Children's Health Insurance Program that will provide health care coverage for 10 million additional children in this country,
we continue to have and to grow exemplary "champions" for children and families in Congress, in federal agencies, in state governments, in the corporate, foundation, and research and academic worlds, in local communities, and in our families themselves,
we have decreasing rates of teen pregnancy and youth violence -- although we must be mindful of how troubled some of our children are growing up to be,
more children and families have access to affordable child care and extended learning programs because of federal, state, and local investments and partnerships, and
we have collected, synthesized, and are disseminating great data and research that are helping to bridge the gaps and continue the momentum in our early care and education system-building efforts that include Head Start and public school partnerships
We do indeed have much to celebrate. We can be proud of our efforts to date. But there is still much to do. On all levels, in Congress, across federal agencies, in states, and in local communities, we must all work together, remembering that a chain, -- the chain that is this great and powerful nation,-- is only as strong as its weakest link -- our most vulnerable child.
We can make and enforce laws but we can't mandate what really matters -- caring, commitment, compassion, and setting high expectations for children's development and learning and for our work as partners in this effort to build bridges between Head Start and the public schools.
Honest, supportive, and effective relationships between families, professionals, programs, services, institutions, and communities are the order for the new day. Creative, sound solutions and the development of new commitments, beliefs, values, skills, and resources must be the foundation of our partnership efforts.
Bridging the gap is only partially about the differences in our programs - their laws and regulations, operations, and philosophy. It is more about our attitudes and our willingness or lack of willingness to see our relationship to one another in a different way. If we can jump out of our school boxes and Head Start boxes and jump together into a continuum of care and learning box -- the box that contains the needs, desires, and aspirations of all of our children and their families as they grow, develop, and learn along a developmental continuum -- then we will discover those creative, sound solutions.
Jumping out of our boxes doesn't mean we lose the integrity of our programs or our special identity -- it just means that without the many walls of our many individual boxes,
we then become more accessible,
better able to hear the voices of others who are in the box with us,
we are better able to see how the pieces of the early care and education puzzle can more efficiently and effectively fit together to create a whole picture, and
we can even more readily locate the missing pieces.
In the new box, are all of our children and families -- the infants, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarteners, and primary graders. In the box without walls between children, families, and programs, it becomes so much easier to see the gaps and to build the bridges, to help the children and families make carefully planned transitions as the traverse the bridge along the continuum of their early care and education experiences.
If we view the box from above, we see children doing what they do when they're infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and so on. We see their caregivers and teachers nurturing them and working with them in ways that stimulate their growth, development, and learning in appropriate ways. We see parents sometimes busy at work, sometimes busy learning new skills, often busy with their children learning how to be effective parents and their children's most important teachers and advocates, and busy confering with their children's caregivers and teachers.
And regularly, we will see the caregivers, teachers, administrators, and other staff, purposefully but with great ease, cross the great divides (because remember -- there are no more walls and we're in the new box together) to plan and implement their creative solutions for linking important aspects of their programs like:
standards and accountability systems,
professional development and career development opportunities,
teaching and learning philosophies and learning goals,
assessment systems that will ensure that all children make continual progress along their individual continuum of development and learning, and
parental education and involvement opportunities.
And you know what else you see? You see that they are all the same children and families - you over here knew them when they were infants, and you over there knew them when they were toddlers, and you over there knew them in preschool, and you over there know them now in kindergarten, and you over there will know them next year when they enter first grade. And there are others who will know them in the years ahead.
How might it have helped that child learn if you had important information about that child's health and development before they reached your classroom?
How might it have helped that child to learn if you had seen samples of that child's previous work efforts? How might it have helped that child to learn if you had talked to that child's caregiver or early childhood teacher and found out about that child's learning style or special gifts before they reached your classroom?
How might it have helped that child learn if you had had an opportunity to meet with his or her parent to establish a positive working relationship, to learn about that child care family, and to talk about the goals for their child's learning experience in your classroom?
Bridging the gap is as much a personal journey as a professional journey.
If you asked youself these questions and searched deep for honest answers, what might you do differently in your work with young children and families? With your staff in your programs? With colleagues and other professionals across programs and agencies?
We must not allow our children to accept shriveled expectations and as parents and educators we must never substitute our excuses for their aspirations. It takes more than a single program effort to raise expectations for children's growth, development, and learning, and more than a single program effort to help children meet those raised expectations. We simply cannot do it alone.
When we are all working in the same box, there are no gaps, only bridges to mark the transitions as children and families move from one experience to the another, from one program to another, from one classroom to another, and even from one community to another. And when children and families are crossing those bridges they can see from where they've come and they can see to where they are going. They can also see other options for where they might want to go in the future. On a bridge, you can see for miles, and miles, and miles.
And those bridges, because we built them with them with a shared vision for young children and families, with the 6 c's -- cooperation, coordination, collaboration, commitment, caring and compassion -- without walls and with many connections, allow us to safely see our children and families from one destination to the next.
On one end of the bridge, we're excitedly waving good-bye because we've done a good job at helping that child grow and learn and because we're aware of what new adventures in growing and learning await our child and family, and we know that they are well-prepared for new challenges.
On the other end of the bridge, we are excitedly waving hello and welcome, because we know that child and family, know where we must begin, and are aware of the possibilities for success that await them in this new adventure in learning.
Those bridges are seeing a lot of traffic because we -- Head Start, child care, and the public schools - are crossing them regularly ourselves to keep the lanes of communication open by:
engaging in joint planning and training,
sharing knowledge, information, and resources,
building common understanding,
developing and speaking a common language,
setting high expectations for children's development and learning,
helping parents learn and develop new skills for supporting their children's learning and being involved in their schools, and
fine-tuning our programs and services to get the best results for our children and families.
To Bridge the Gap between Head Start and the Public Schools, we've taken a little journey this morning. I hope you have enjoyed it. We've been to the White House for a couple of very important early childhood conferences, we've visited our forefathers for a little historical reminder about our inalienable rights, we visited a group of outstanding leaders who conquered adversity to accomplish the greater good in their lifetimes, we went to school and learned about new research on the brain and literacy development and hard some pretty sad statistics about the state of early childhood programs.
We heard about the important role parents play in helping their children develop literacy skills and expand their vocabularies, and the disparities that come with differences in parental education levels.
We learned that readiness is a three-part equation. The nation has declared that it is ready by giving us goals, objectives, and a measure of support. We're still working on our schools and early childhood programs and we're still working with our children and their families.
We heard that educational excellence is more than just words - that its achievement can have life and death consequences, and that its foundation, must be laid in the cradle.
We heard about some of the challenges, and we heard about the many opportunities that are within our reach. We even did a little celebrating.
And along the way, we went sailing and crossed oceans, traveled over many bridges, and expanded our visions and our worlds to include a new view outside of our own little boxes.
I've shared with you all of the reasons why we must build bridges between all early care and education programs and the public schools. This isn't a new idea - we've been talking about it for a long, long time.
No more excusing, no more accusing. This window of opportunity won't be open forever. Time is truly of the essence. Our leaders have taken our vision and shared it with the nation. They didn't create the vision because we had it first. But through their efforts, we have laws that give us permission to do all of the things we say we need to get done to make this work for our children and families. We have programs that with some additional effort, can provide the kinds of services that we know will make a difference. We have the research and information to help us figure out how to do it right. We have the creativity, intelligence, and resources we need to put the plans into action. We just need the will.
I'm excited about the possibilities for kids and families and for our work as caregivers and educators and I don't want to come back to one more conference to talk about "bridging the gaps" beween early childhood and education.
Let's leave this conference tomorrow with a commitment to put the "gap" days behind us as we move into the new millenium. Use your 6 c's to reach out into the early care and education community to learn more about which you don't know and to build new partnerships and relationships. Refuse to take no for an answer from your public school or your Head Start or child care colleagues.
In the days ahead, let's think and do early care and education systems, let's think and do high quality programs, let's think and do educational excellence, and let's think and do children and families first.
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