Woodward, Okla. —
What do a university dean, a bank president, a former business manager, a school board member, a city official, an executive director of a youth services agency, and a state legislator have in common?
In Woodward, these men and women all believe in the importance of investing in early childhood development and the positive impact such investment can have on society as a whole.
These local leaders discussed the benefits of investing in young children and their families during a business summit held at the Woodward Conference Center on Thursday. The summit was sponsored by the Oklahoma Champions for Early Opportunities (OKCEOs).
According to a press release, OKCEOs is "a statewide initiative to educate business, community and legislative leaders about the strong link between early learning and economic growth."
Speaking about that link Thursday, were Dr. Deena Fisher, dean of NWOSU-Woodward; Bruce Benbrook, president of Stock Exchange Bank; Sandi Liles, marketing director of High Plains Technology Center; Roxy Merklin, member of the Woodward Public Schools Board of Education; Doug Haines, Woodward assistant city manager; Kevin Evans, executive director of Western Plains Youth and Family Center; and District 61 State Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne.
INVESTING IN LEADERS OF TOMORROW
Fisher said that OKCEOs have a "simple" message: "Investing in kids is good business."
Putting it in investment terms, she compared it to compound interest, saying "the more you invest early, the bigger pay off you get later on."
That's because "building up children is like building up a house, you need to have a strong foundation," she said.
With the large majority of a child's brain development occurring in the first 3 years of life, Fisher said that it is easy to see how important it is to build a good foundation early.
Because having the right foundation up to age 3 will help ensure a child is ready to go to school when the time comes to enroll in pre-kindergarten at age 4, she said.
School readiness is important, because it impacts how well a child does throughout his or her school career, including whether or not that child goes on to higher education or even graduates from high school, Fisher said.
As a sign of how much early education can impact a child's continuing education, the dean said "the amount of absences that a child has up to 3rd grade is a good predictor of whether that child will drop out of school."
That in turn affects what kind of job that child is able to get as an adult and therefore what kind of economic contribution he or she is able to make later on in life.
And since "today's infants will be tomorrow's workers and leaders," Fisher said it is important for businesses and communities to invest in the future generations