Legislators, dignitaries help promote 'Pre-K Week'

Georgia's First lady visits Clayton County school

The more than 200 young students at KinderCare Learning Center, in College Park, could hardly wait for their guests to arrive.

Kimberly McDowell, district manager of KinderCare, said the private school at 5252 West Fayetteville Road, serves students, ages 6 weeks old to 12 years old, and the youngsters' emotions were riding high early Tuesday morning, anticipating the arrival of Georgia's First Lady Sandra Deal, Bobby Cagle, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, and Pat Willis, executive director of Voices for Georgia's Children.

The dignitaries were making a stop at the school in support of the state's Pre-K week recognition, which is this week. Several Georgia legislators have also joined the statewide effort to promote early education, by visiting more than 100 Pre-K classes –– in their districts –– to observe how the state is investing its lottery revenue to enhance the quality of education for Pre-K-age students.

"They [students] were really excited," said KinderCare's McDowell. "They love to get visitors and couldn't wait to show them things they are learning at KinderCare."

The dignitaries were greeted with warm hugs and smiles from the students who attend the school. Students and staff members expressed their gratitude, and presented Deal and Cagle with gifts. For Cagle, they prepared a survival kit filled with bandages and candy.

For Deal, students in teacher Fredale Lowe's class, put together a picture book with a honey bee theme, titled, "Sorghum Honey." "We knew this was her favorite type honey," said Lowe.

Once Deal and Cagle completed a tour of the school's facilities –– visiting each classroom and shaking the hands of the students and staff –– the Pre-K students –– while wearing bee hats they made from scratch –– came together, to hear words of wisdom from the dignitaries, mostly on the importance of reading and writing. As a special treat, Deal read a story to the students entitled, "Who I'd Like to Be."

"I love children, I love to read to them, and share my time with them," she said. "I've been a teacher, and I miss being in the classroom."

Willis said the Pre-K initiative is sponsored by her group, Voices for Georgia's Children, a non-profit, public-policy-advocacy organization, whose goal is to unify the voices of Georgia in support of children's issues. She said the relationship between Cagle and First Lady Deal came about because of their commitment to the development and growth of children from birth to 5 years of age.

"People don't know how those first five years of life are essential for children to succeed in school," said Willis. She added that her organization thought it would be important to have legislators be a part of Pre-K efforts and centers throughout the state.

That way, she said, when decisions are being made that affect children and their education, legislators and dignitaries can draw on the experiences they have visiting students, and may be inclined to give a greater priority to Pre-K education.

Deal said she was happy to oblige the initiative, and added, "The effort is to encourage kids to come to school regularly, and learn how to read, write, and draw –– and have the skills they need when they grow up."

Cagle said it is important to highlight to the community the importance of Pre-K education, and preparing students to transition, successfully, to elementary school.

He added that the initiative will not stop with visits to schools, but will work with school district central offices in offering other educational resources to prepare students and parents to go to the next level. "The parents are key to a child's education," he said. "They need to be aware of what the child is learning and what they need to learn as they [move] forward. They need to pay attention to how [their children] are doing."

Cagle said this initiative will be an ongoing one, in conjunction with Voices for Georgia's Children. "We think it is extremely important for those that make public-policy decisions, and they need to know what's going on throughout the state," he said.