Today was the last Parent-Teacher conference we would have at our son’s preschool as he finishes up his three years in preschool, ready to move on to Kindergarten. As we sat down with the teacher she opened up his portfolio, which began in August of 2014, when he was then three years old. At first glance I was suddenly flooded with memories of bringing him to preschool for the first time. I remember the agony that went into our decision making around which preschool he would attend and comparing the few options that were available to us at the time. He was so little and vulnerable at the time, a blank canvas that we had both so carefully coddled leading up to this first day.
That first week of bringing him to his school and running to the “goodbye window” to blow him kisses and say goodbye as we parted ways for the day was filled with emotion. Our baby was growing up. Then after blinking three times, here we are three years later and saying good bye. Suddenly in the middle of the Parent-Teacher conference, sitting around a tiny table on chairs meant for toddlers, I found myself starting to cry. Tears began to fill my eyes and I excused myself momentarily to compose myself. The teacher did not have to give me any report on how our son has done over the course of the years, we knew very well. His knowledge and thirst for learning was apparent to us every day, his vocabulary has become complimentary to our own and his conversational abilities are equally strong. He knows math and science, loves bugs and nature, and has become socially engaging with both children and adults. This is the work of preschool. It occurred to me in that instance what an enormous amount of trust we had placed in the establishment that was his preschool, but even more so on the teachers that became his guidance in his most informative years.
This fact is something that I don’t take lightly personally or professionally. Imua Family Services, the organization that I am fortunate enough to be the Executive Director of, operates a preschool. So I too have been on the responsibility side of hiring and staffing the preschool, determining the goals for preschool education and prioritizing the values of early childhood development. Throughout I will have always asked myself when making decisions, “Well Dean, what would you want for your son.” This has become my measurement tool, and to be honest it’s a good instrument for giving me pause to think.
I asked my son how he felt about his preschool teachers and he said as I expected, “I love them.” This is no surprise; he has told us many times from the start how much he loves his teachers. Often times when there is a story he is telling about his day at school, it will either end or start with how much he loves his teacher. The teacher is the person he goes to when the parent is not present. The teacher is the person giving you guidance, the person caring for boo boos, ow-ees, and days when you’re feeling sad. The teacher is the person you run to on Monday mornings to tell exciting news to and the people that you possibly spend the most of your waking hours with each week. In essence the preschool teacher is in fact the most important person in your child’s early development setting the course for their entire academic future.
Last night on the evening news the local Hawaii news channel had done a story on how the cost of Preschool education was now evenly matched to the cost of local state college. There were several interviews of families attending a baby expo commenting on the subject. From the time a child is born in the State of Hawaii, you need to get them on the waitlist for a preschool. Preschools offer varying degrees of care, education specialties, time frames, class room size etc. And of course, the quality of care and education coincides often with the price of tuition. Many families do not have the privilege of choosing quality over necessity or duration of time that is required for them to be able to meet the requirements of their own jobs and work schedules. It has definitely become a serious issue.
Professionally, I also sit on the Board of Directors of the Hawaii Children’s Action Network (HCAN), because I believe in advocating for universal preschool for all children in Hawaii. We know fundamentally how important this early start is to a child’s future and educational success. We know that early investment in children will save the State and taxpayers in the future as well as provide a better life for those keiki. At the same time preschools need quality control, standards and specific measurements to ensure they are developmentally appropriate and successful.
We all have that favorite teacher that made a difference in our early lives. Mrs. Boggs and Mrs. Jackson are the two women who are permanently engrained in my mind from my early childhood education. And I too remember saying how much I loved them; I remember being so enamored by Mrs. Boggs that I wanted to be beside her all the time. Looking back I feel very confident in saying that these two women helped to shape my early world view. They gave me the encouragement to believe in myself and pursue any dream that I might have. They also shaped my view of women, respect towards human kind and my behavior towards others.
So how do you put a price tag on this quality of care and early childhood education? To be honest, to me, it’s very easy, it’s priceless. However in the 21st Century, the cost of qualified care, facilities, licensing and other requirements makes it similar to what higher education now costs. Education comes at a very high price, especially in this state where the cost of living is probably the highest in the U.S. Personally, I think we should put as much emphasis on preschool and kindergarten as we do on high school. In my opinion, Preschool children are more absorbent, ready to learn, and be influenced at this early age.
So as we concluded my son’s last and final conference of his preschool career, the teacher asked if we had any comments, I did not. I have seen the advances he has made. I also know where he needs improvements. I was overcome by gratitude of the care and integrity to which these two women teachers have influenced our son leaving an everlasting and positive impression.
From the bottom of my heart, I commend and thank all teachers everywhere. Teachers know the importance of education and understand the incredible influential role they play in the lives of our young people. Their caring commitment to our children helps shape their lives, improve our communities and the future our planet.
Mahalo nui loa!