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Early Bird

Meet Jimmy Oates, a military vet and early childhood student

'If it wasn't for her, I probably would've just given up.'

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Rondell Bennett, Karly Walker, and Jimmy Oates talk about what led Jimmy to study early childhood at Fayetteville Tech, and what kept him enrolled. Liz Bell/EducationNC

We’re on the road visiting all 58 community colleges, and we’re asking about early childhood preparation and the child care needs of students and communities. I was at Fayetteville Technical Community College last week. A highlight was talking with Jimmy Oates, above, about his journey to studying early childhood education.

For three years after Oates retired from the Army, he worked with 16-to-18-year-olds in hard circumstances. He also helped out at his cousin’s child care center and with his nieces and nephews.

He saw bits of his own story in the children in his life. When Oates was 4 years old, his mother died. He came across many children struggling in one-parent households, particularly fatherless boys, and thought he could play a role in a majority-female workforce.

“Not to be able to receive the motherly love, I think this is what has really drawn me to kids,” he told me.

It’s mutual. Oates described how children gravitate toward him — how the children in his cousin’s center and at the elementary school where he volunteers get excited when “Mr. Jimmy” visits and the infants raise their hands for him to hold them. “I’m really drawn to kids, and they’re drawn to me.”

Oates isn’t sure where he’ll end up after he finishes his associate degree. But he is sure that he wouldn’t be so close to the finish line — 39 credits in — without early childhood instructor Karly Walker (also pictured above, in the middle).

“If it wasn’t for her, I probably would’ve just given up,” Oates said. Walker is asking Oates to start mentoring another male student in the program. For now, he’s applying his learning to the many children in his life, like how to check in on children’s emotions and incorporate a struggling child into a group.

“I went through it too, so I know,” he said.

Below, don’t miss a Q&A from Katie Dukes with Jennifer Lansford, the new director of the Center for Child & Family Policy at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. Dukes asks Lansford what kinds of policy priorities the center has in the coming years to support children and families.

See you on the road!


Early Bird reads: What we’re writing

Q&A | Jennifer Lansford, director of Duke’s Center for Child & Family Policy

Dukes asks Lansford about her time since 2000 at the center and what her focus will be in the coming years. She also asks her about the looming “child care cliff.” Lansford’s answer stretches outside the early care and education landscape — to how our policies can support the whole family in the earliest years:

EdNC: Some of the policy measures that were put in place to support the child care industry during the pandemic are set to expire soon, causing experts to warn of a looming “child care cliff.” What sort of policies do you think might prevent us from falling off that cliff?

Lansford: I think a big question is how to build systems of care. If I were going to design an optimal system to avoid things like the child care cliff, it would start with universal paid parental leave. Mothers are either demonized or valorized as being the ones who are responsible for figuring out the child care issue, but systems that do [parental leave] well don’t treat this as just a women’s issue. Sweden, for example, designates a certain number of the leave days for fathers. And if the fathers don’t take it, the family loses it; it’s not like it can be then shifted over to the mother. That’s great from a systems perspective because it clearly involves fathers, not just mothers, and that has benefits for kids as well.

Your take, for goodness sake: EdNC perspectives

Perspective | Back to school, where attendance could not be more important for learning and reading success

The North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation’s Lindsay Saunders highlights the importance of regular attendance in school early in life.

“Reducing absenteeism is a simple, cost-effective, but often overlooked strategy for improving academic performance,” Saunders writes. “Starting as early as preschool and kindergarten, chronic absence — missing 10% of the academic year — can leave third graders unable to read proficiently, sixth graders struggling with coursework, and high school students off track for graduation.”

Many schools don’t keep track of the right data to understand underlying issues of chronic absenteeism, Saunders writes. She also outlines strategies and resources schools can use to make a difference.

In other early learning news: What I’m reading

The Problem With Kindergarten - From The Atlantic

Research & Resources: Let's talk public pre-K in family child care homes

As many people advocate for a more publicly funded early care and education system that takes burdens off both families and educators, the question of what that system should look like arises.

Who should provide public early learning? So far, pre-K has been prioritized in terms of public investment, and those public dollars have mainly gone to public schools and private child care centers, according to researchers from Delaware, North Carolina, and Illinois.

Their new research brief argues family child care (FCC) homes should also be able to participate in state pre-K programs — and that children and communities would be better for it.

In North Carolina and elsewhere, home-based providers have filled a critical need during the pandemic, staying open when larger settings had to close. They also often provide more flexible care for nontraditional work hours, linguistically and culturally relevant care for marginalized communities, and more intimate settings.

Even though about half of state pre-K programs allow these providers to participate in theory, the researchers write, “limited data or research is available about their design, implementation, or impact.”

The paper says five main “implementation areas” should be considered to equitably include family child care in public pre-K systems:

  • “Equitable funding and compensation.
  • Accessible qualifications and professional development.
  • FCC-specific PreK program quality standards.
  • Comprehensive services for children and families.
  • Streamlined data and monitoring requirements.”

“Including FCC settings as key partners in these systems is a crucial step in ensuring that all preschool children have access to high-quality, responsive, and accessible educational opportunities,” the researchers write.

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.