For many parents, the start of their career as a parent advocate is when their child enters Kindergarten. They join the PTA, they sign up for the book fair and they bring in canned goods for the food drive. As the executive director of the North Carolina PTA, the state’s oldest and largest volunteer organization advocating for every child in North Carolina, I see that our members and leaders deeply understand and value the role of parents and schools in the lives of children. With more than 975 units in schools from Manteo to Murphy, I see the very best that parents and teachers bring to our schools.
However, for many children, that start in Kindergarten is too late to reach their full potential. By the time a child gets a dental exam in school, they may have missed years of preventative and vital oral healthcare. By the time their reading is assessed in their first days at their elementary school, they may have missed 1,500 nights of bedtime stories that would have shaped their vocabulary and educational future. By the time they take their first field trip, they may have already fallen behind peers who have been given hundreds of hours of enrichment. By the time they eat their first nutritionally sound school meal, they may have experienced years of food insecurity. By the time a child enters Kindergarten, too many critical years and opportunities have passed. Early childhood shapes a child’s future and their ability to reach their full potential.
Over the years, we’ve seen exceptional programs emerge in our state such as NC Pre-K and nurse home visiting programs targeting these vital early years. In spite of that, we know that there is so much more room to grow, improve, innovate, and ensure the future of every child. The years from birth to age eight are critical years and we look forward to taking part in the critical conversations about early childhood.
Catherine Peglow is the executive director of the North Carolina PTA.