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Prepárate: Exploring Early Education-Higher Education Linkages

  ·  Jacob Vigil

Want to improve higher education outcomes? Invest early.

Early childhood education professionals and advocates can easily spend hours discussing the linkages between strong foundations in early education and strong outcomes in higher education–but we asked them to keep it to just an hour on May 1. That was the date of the College Board’s annual Prepárate Conference and the Latino Policy Forum’s workshop around early childhood education’s role in boosting academic success later in life.

Prepárate drew education leaders and professionals from across the country to Chicago for a two-day discussion around solutions and best practices for fostering Latino students’ academic success. The Latino Policy Forum wanted to ensure that early education received its due at the conference, and coordinated a panel with leaders from various sectors of Illinois’ early childhood  community: Dr. Luisiana Melendez of the Erikson Institute; Mariana Osoria, a director of Family Focus Nuestra Famila early child education centers in Chicago; Erika Okezie-Phillips, program officer from the McCormick Foundation; and myself, representing the Latino Policy Forum’s work in birth-to-three policy.

The panel (moderated by the Forum’s executive director, Sylvia Puente) spoke extensively on the positive correlation between a strong foundation in high quality early childhood education and higher education potential, as well as the detrimental implications of inadequate or absent early childhood educational experiences. Each panelist was quick to emphasize the strengths that Latino families pass on to their children, including strong social/emotional skills and a high value placed on education.  Bilingualism should be seen as an asset, the panelists stressed, and the foundation for strong second language proficiency is best laid in early years by parents who reinforce literacy in the home language.  The panel also discussed their interest in a birth-to-third-grade framework for understanding academic achievement.

A significant takeaway for me came towards the end of the panel, when audience members began dialoging about higher ed’s role in bolstering the early childhood workforce by enhancing pathways for bilingual and bicultural college graduates to enter the field.  Many audience members came from high school settings, and talked about the role of engaged parents and linguistically and culturally diverse teachers in student success—and expressed their encouragement in learning that these same factors are critical components of early education. 

The early education discussion added great value to a conference that focuses on higher education access. By emphasizing the links and continuities that contribute to student success, the panel gave audience members a better understanding of how their work builds off—and can contribute to—the efforts of  the early education field. This expanded understanding of student success strengthens all of us in our policy work and practice as we tackle a shared goal of advancing the educational attainment of Latinos. 

Posted In: Infant & Toddler Services , Education