Focus! Education & everything else…

Multiple responsibilities and interests (Twitter PLNs!) have grabbed my attention since my last post, and the words of Prime Minister Lee of Singapore and Timo Lankinen, Director-General, Finnish National Board of Education were so eloquent and inspiring – well, let’s just say that’s a tough act to follow.

Then I invoked what has become a mantra for me: everything is happening everywhere, all at once, all the time (this is also as far as my understanding of quantum physics goes).  In other words, everything is connected – even if I don’t see the connection at the time – so those things which “distract” me are really learning experiences which will inform later activities/thinking/learning.

So since my previous post 17  days ago, here’s part of what informed my learning, and what I want to share with you. I’ll have to do a second post to fill in the other eleven days worth, and perhaps a heads up on what’s on the horizon.

On November 9th, I attended Why Should We Care About the Early Years? a free community presentation by Dr. Frank Oberklaid, sponsored by the Towns of Banff and Canmore, Canadian Rockies Public Schools (CRPS) and the Fraser Mustard Chair in childhood development. CRPS is part of the Alberta Education Early Child Development (ECD) Mapping Initiative, a province-wide, five-year research project activity to examine the factors that may influence healthy child development. The Initiative will use the results to support communities and families.

Dr. Oberklaid first gave a quick overview of brain development, both physiologically and as “sculpted” by external factors. This emphasized how critical it is to focus on the development of children from zero – five years of age. Then, citing Dr. James J. Heckman, (an Economics professor at the University of Chicago and the 2000 Economics Nobel Prize winner)  he said that leading economic research shows that up to eight years of age, dollars spent on children are an investment, not an expense. You can read an interview with Dr. Heckman here.

Oberklaid said the Bow Valley is rich in resources for children and families. The key to doing the best for children lies in seamlessly knitting those services together, so that “every door a parent opened, was the ‘right’ door” to access the services needed, when needed. Yes, more money for professionals and resources would be helpful but the system is currently designed to react. Oberklaid said it was as though people were falling off a cliff and ambulances were assembled at the bottom to treat the injured. There will never be enough ambulances. So the answer is not to do more, but to do things differently. Providing the right services in a timely way is like constructing a fence at the edge of the cliff. There is a group of local partners working hard in our region to build this capacity, to build this fence. They are fueled by “an ethical and economic imperative”, as Oberklaid framed in his concluding remarks. With the proof flooding in of ROI – such a distasteful term to use in the context of the well-being of children and families – neither a small cee nor a capital cee conservative can oppose or deny such initiatives.

In January 2010, Anne Cooper, Superintendent: Revelstoke (B.C.) Board of Education, gave a presentation on initiatives undertaken in that district regarding community collaboration and early childhood development. She too referenced Dr. Heckman, and spoke of the collective energy of “intersectional coalitions”. Mrs. Cooper spoke of her own conversion to recognizing the responsibility for the children lies beyond the school walls and earlier than school entry age. It was a powerful and convincing talk, strongly supported by objective evidence of the success experienced by the students – not just in learning, but in many other ways. The quote that really stuck in my head was: “Schools have to be ready for the child, not the other way around.”

The theme of these presentations dovetails with the “wraparound services” mentioned in Alberta Education’s Inspiring Action discussion paper:

“Supports and services for students will be delivered collaboratively in the most logical and natural setting to “wraparound” the student. Efforts will need to be made to expand the capacity of our education system so that it responds to the needs of all students.”

It is also the logical progression in CRPS’ Inspiring Hearts & Minds. For, if it is true, as Dr. Oberklaid said, that “50% of kids are already in trouble when they arrive at school”, then schools must be concerned with early childhood development.

About Esmé Comfort

My husband Jim and I moved to the Bow Valley in 1980, settling in Canmore in 1983. Both my children were born in Canmore and attended K -12 in Canadian Rockies Public Schools District (CRPS), French Immersion. For the past six years I served as vice-chair of the board. Alberta Government support to the CRPS Inspiring Hearts & Minds initiative created opportunities for provincial, national and international outreach. In the past I held positions on the Canmore Daycare Board, the preschool board, and various school councils/PACs; I served as president of the local chapter of Canadian Parents for French for five years and sat on the provincial board for two. I currently sit on the board of the Canmore Folk Music Festival, work full time at an events management firm and edit, copy-edit and proofread on contract. My husband and I ran a small main street business for 18 years: supply and install floor wall and window coverings.
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