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Early Bird

A district rethinks early learning

Trying new things amid the stress

Early Bird readers, hello again. Newcomers, welcome! If you were forwarded this email, you can sign up here to receive it every two weeks, and join our conversation on issues facing North Carolina’s young children and those who support them. If you’re already a subscriber, please help us reach more people by sharing this with your friends and co-workers interested in early childhood education.

Carter Height practices shapes and colors at an early learning pod in Tarboro. Liz Bell/EducationNC

Carter Height, in the photo above, is one of the 3-year-olds attending weekly learning pods hosted by Edgecombe County Public Schools in Tarboro. I spoke with his grandmother Cynthia Coley, who comes to the pods with him, on a November morning. Because Height hasn’t been around many peers or in a formal learning environment, Coley thought the district’s pods would make a big difference for him.

After a month of pods, Height had started talking with the other children and participating in activities. Deborah Thomas, the district’s early childhood transitions coordinator, said the kind of change she’s seen in Height is the point of the weekly meetings — school readiness.

Thomas hosts the meetings in a community center and a library, explaining and modeling that sometimes intimidating term to children and their caregivers. The pods are one of three initiatives the district has launched this school year in an effort to reach children and families amid challenges shared by districts across the state. It’s difficult to know where young children are before kindergarten and how to support their needs. And as children enter kindergarten and early elementary grades, teachers are noticing the pandemic’s disruptions in their skills and social and emotional development.

Read on here for how the district is rethinking its approach to early learning to address longstanding challenges — plus the added stress of the pandemic — from parent literacy nights to community collaboration.

National early childhood dollars still at play

The 19th News reports that large early learning investments, including universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds and unprecedented child care subsidies, are still a part of behind-the-scenes talks in Washington after Build Back Better failed to pass in December.

“The child care and pre-K components would be funded for a longer period of time than in the White House’s proposal — a decade, instead of six years — likely necessitating the removal of other components, such as paid leave or an extended, expanded child tax credit to remain under the agreed-upon $1.75 trillion price tag,” writes Washington correspondent Amanda Becker.

Other details of the new proposal are still unknown. Becker reports that Congress might return its focus to Build Back Better around March or April.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you’d like to see in EdNC’s early childhood coverage in 2022. Fill out this quick survey and let me know what questions and story ideas you have. Thank you for reading.


Early Bird reads: What we’re writing

In Edgecombe, early learning initiatives are thinking outside the classroom

Edgecombe County joined a cohort of five districts pulled together in 2021 by The Innovation Project and the Friday Institute through an initiative called the Early Learning Network, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The network facilitated design-thinking sessions that focused on challenges and opportunities in early learning.

“I’m sure it feels right now like, ‘Oh my gosh, how could we add one more thing?’” said Erin Swanson, assistant superintendent of innovation and strategic planning for the district. “I think for us, we’re like, ‘Gosh, if we don’t, then we’re going to be in the same space come five years from now.’”

More than 3,600 N.C. children are coping with the death of a caregiver due to the pandemic

“At least 3,626 children across North Carolina — mostly students of color — are currently coping with the death of a caregiver due to COVID-19,” reports EdNC policy analyst Katie Dukes. “Schools will bear responsibility for supporting children who’ve experienced this loss as they learn and grow over the next two decades.”

Next, Dukes will be researching and reporting on how schools and communities are responding to students’ needs and coping with student grief. Respond to the question at the end of the story to share your experience.


Your take, for goodness sake: EdNC perspectives

If you care about childhood literacy, here’s an invitation to a conversation you won’t want to miss

The N.C. PreK-12 Literacy & Equity Summit on Jan. 12 will include “a series of conversations with subject matter experts on a broad range of literacy issues, with equity as a centering force in each of these talks.”

EdNC reporter Rupen Fofaria is part of the event’s organizing committee. Join Rupen and 1,200 others who have registered for the free event. The event is hosted by the  Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, and the Department of Public Instruction, Department of Health and Human Services, and UNC System are partners.


In other early learning news: What I’m reading


Research & Resources: Let's talk COVID safety, recovery, and information

There’s a lot of research and resources in early childhood for policymakers, providers, teachers, and families since the holidays. Today I’ll provide a bit of a roundup:

  • New COVID-19 guidance for child care. The Department of Health and Human Services lists updates to its COVID-19 guidance for early childhood programs on page 2. Changes include a booster requirement for quarantine exemptions for individuals 18 years or older, updated information on vaccine eligibility for children five years and older, and a requirement for parents and regulatory agencies to have access to facilities. The state’s quarantine timeline for those with COVID is now five days for those with no symptoms or improving symptoms, plus mask-wearing for another five days.
  • An early childhood information crisis. A new report from FutureEd at Georgetown University outlines challenges in collecting information on young children in a fragmented early care and education system. Making smart choices on how to support children is difficult without reliable information. Virginia has leading efforts underway to improve quality through a rating system and a classroom observation tool and to collect information on all publicly funded early childhood programs to inform policy. Read more here.
  • Advice for repairing the early care and education sector. The Societal Expert Action Network (SEAN) released strategies to mitigate the pandemic’s impacts on the early care and education sector and set up localities and states for lasting change. The guide is meant to inform policymakers in their next steps, including modifying subsidy reimbursement, reducing closures in the short term, and supporting the early childhood workforce.
Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.