Pensacola News JournalThis is the case in Escambia County. That single focus is early brain development so every child enters kindergarten ready for his or her education.

There are many positive reasons to live in Escambia County. There is the great military presence including the Blue Angels. There are quality post-secondary educational institutions and wonderful access to water that crashes into some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

We have business growth and an ever-more vibrant Pensacola downtown congregating around Palafox Street, one of the nation’s top-10 avenues. We have a Double-A affiliate baseball team in the Blue Wahoos and the 11th-best sport venue in the country in Blue Wahoos Stadium. Our arts and culture scene are bustling. I am sure everyone sees items not listed that could be.

However, one thing that holds back this area from ever reaching its full potential is that one third of Escambia County kindergartners – that’s 1,000 children each year – arrive unprepared.

What does this correlate to?

It affects the other two-thirds, who get less instruction due to the extra work needed to boost the struggling 1,000. Of course this weighs heavily on teachers and aides.

What else does this equate to? Fewer high school graduates, less talent in the workplace, more crime and lower home values. Escambia County population is flat and has been for some time. We see job growth, yet a flat population, while counties around Escambia grow.

Why? Because people move to other areas seeking what they feel are better schools.

I believe schools are not the issue, and for the most part, there are great and dedicated teachers in Escambia County. It all comes down to the need to take advantage of the new learnings on how and when the brain develops.

We know that kindergarten readiness is a solid measure.

The opportunity to reduce poverty significantly in Escambia County rests in taking advantage of the solution at hand and that is making sure we invest in parents and families to open up the impact early childhood development has.

Research shows that a child’s brain is 80 percent developed by Age 3. That’s two years before their first day of kindergarten.

Due to more scientific awareness of how the brain develops, tools and techniques to open up this opportunity for parents and children and the evident need to do so, Escambia County can become America’s first early learning community. By assuring that we provide every young child the brain development they deserve and need, we will end up with a more talented workforce, more jobs, better wages and less crime.

It is at least a 10-year process. As Dr. Dana Suskind said in her recent visit to the area, early childhood brain development must be built into the culture of the community.

We at the Studer Community Institute, along with many others, are all in on creating Americas first early learning community. Based on the over 750 ideas that have been submitted in the “Be the Bulb” contest, the 500 attendees at the recent talk by Dr. Suskind, the many organizations and people who have been committed to early childhood development for years, it is evident there are many others who are all in.

Now we need everybody to be all in.

So what will make this different from such efforts in the past that have not reduced poverty? There is now scientific research on the true impact and importance of early brain development. There are evidence-based tools and techniques to utilize. There is a great understanding of the positive impact of having children ready for kindergarten. We are living with the consequences of having 1,000 children not ready each year which is high crime, low wages, less talent for employers, lower home values and a flat population. It will either get better or worse. We have the opportunity and responsibility to make it better and much better at that.

Why will we succeed? Values. In my almost 20 years of living here, I see a strong set of values throughout the community. When a solution to a problem is identified, values kick in. When these values kick in then there is no choice but to act on such a solution. For Escambia to reach its fullest potential everyone must be all in.

We may not agree on some things, but I feel we all agree that every child deserves the very best opportunity to be ready for kindergarten.

This post is reprinted in its entirety courtesy of Quint Studer, Founder of the Studer Community Institute, on Twitter at @StuderInstitute and online at http://studeri.org. Posted as “Viewpoint: 1,000 Escambia Children Unprepared” on April 8, 2016 by the Pensacola News Journal.

Learn more about the Studer Community Institute’s investment in education at http://studeri.org. More on idea solutions that aim to improve early learning at http://studeri.org/2016/04/292-ideas-counting/. Follow the Institute on Facebook and Twitter. Mr. Quint Studer is a local philanthropist and businessman. He is co-owner of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, the double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. Follow Quint on Twitter at @quintsuder.

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