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The importance of socio-emotional development in pre-K

During my 10 years as an educator, I have taught middle school, elementary, and pre-K. I earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and have witnessed the continuum of the effects that pre-K can have on a student.

The most common issue I see students struggling with today is perseverance, demonstrated by the social-emotional stamina students need as they work up to their capacity for learning.

As pre-K is a catalyst for language-rich environments that develop student minds to prepare for reading, pre-K can also be drivers for preparing student minds to persevere in handling the rigor as they progress, including their socio-emotional skills, required for independence.

Take Jesse.

Jesse came to me in sixth grade with poor self-esteem, and some of the lowest scores I had seen. Jesse’s home life was a source of constant stress. These factors compound into the problem that Jesse gave up easily. One day, we began talking informally about a project. And then it happened:

“I’m such an idiot! I’m done,” she screamed, slamming her laptop shut.
“Jesse, what is frustrating you?”
“This project!”
“I can see that, but I need you to put words to it. Give me one specific thing that is frustrating you.”
After a pause: “I don’t understand how to convert these measurements.”

A revelation.

“Well, that’s OK. Walk me through your steps and let’s do this together.”

Although this “teachable moment” hardly changed her life, it equipped her with tools that helped her persevere. We continued through this same project, and though frustrated, she no longer gave up quickly. Instead, she would ask for clarity, assistance, or share her work. By the end of third quarter, Jesse was able to consistently complete converting.

That type of conversation was a skill set that I learned as a highly-qualified pre-K educator: finding and revisiting foundational issues.

The need for perseverance in a middle schooler’s life is imperative to success in school and the workforce. Research indicates that self-regulation connects to one’s ability for school adjustment and academic rigor that is offered throughout K-12. But this building of character requires prerequisites that date back to early childhood development. Ensuring opportunities for kids to practice these prerequisites starts with a universal pre-K initiative.

Several areas, including New York City and Oklahoma, have implemented this idea. Georgia’s universal pre-K showed that 82 percent of participants had higher test scores in third grade. A recent study at Duke University reports that early childhood programs “result in higher test scores, lower retention rates, and fewer special education placements by 5th grade.”

Not every family has the luxury to enroll their child into a quality pre-K program. Lower income families depend on programs like “More at Four” to provide quality education. In North Carolina, there are only 20,000 pre-K slots available, but approximately 60,000 needed. The House has its take to solve the issue, while the Senate has another.

Consider talking to your local representative about universal pre-K. Consider how you can educate them on the matter.

  • Send an email with statistical evidence.
  • Offer a time to meet with them, making a five-minute pitch.
  • Connect on social media. Share posts that emphasize the issue of pre-K.
  • Host your own Twitter chat on the issue, and invite these representatives to join the conversation. Even if they do not participate, they will be watching.
Douglas Price

Douglas Price is the Director of Programs for WakeEd Partnership, an independent nonprofit organization composed of business and community leaders committed to improving public education in Wake County. Douglas was the 2019 North Carolina Burroughs Wellcome Fund Charter School Teacher of the Year and is an educator of 12 years. Previously he served as a Hope Street Group Fellow: Teacher Advisory Council, EdAmbassador with EdNC, and participated in several key fellowships throughout NC, including Hope Street Group: Teacher Voice Network, the Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership, the Education Policy Fellowship Program (NC Public Forum), and the NC Collaborative (Duke Research Clinical Institute). He is a current Doctoral candidate at UNC-Greensboro in Educational Leadership.