Originally posted in the Salisbury Post

SALISBURY — An early education center in Salisbury joined similar facilities nationwide last week to recognize the importance of even the youngest students. Salisbury Mayor Karen Alexander visited Partners In Learning on April 5 to read an official order proclaiming it as the Week of the Young Child. “When I heard that our mayor was coming to visit our site, my heart was delighted,” said Jennifer Misenheimer, director of the Partners In Learning Novant location. “The mayor visiting our center to announce the proclamation meant so much to our teachers to have an important city official recognize their influences in early child development. We enjoyed showing her our center and what we have accomplished in the six years of operations. It was a pleasure having her visit.”

According to the National Association for Young Children, the Week of the Young Child was first nationally recognized in 1971 to focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families, and the programs that meet them. Partners In Learning celebrated the week by offering a variety of family and child-centered activities that focus on the whole development of children. In addition, Partners In Learning’s Novant location, located at 519 Best St., next to Novant Hospital, celebrated the week with themed learning such as Music Monday, Tasty Tuesday, Work Together Wednesday, Artsy Thursday and Family Friday. Partners In Learning works locally to promote early childhood experiences for Salisbury and Rowan County’s youngest citizens. The nonprofit also advocates on the state level for public policies supporting early learning for all young children, families, and teachers who work to make a difference in the lives of children.

According to the N.C. Early Education Coalition, where Partners In Learning Executive Director Norma Honeycutt is a member, only 26.7 percent of families can afford childcare. Across the state, over 30,000 children under five are on a subsidy waitlist to receive affordable care. Partners In Learning has a waitlist of 500 children for its centers. Teachers in the early education sector aren’t even able to make a living wage, with most earning only $12 per hour, even with credentials and a degree. With teachers leaving the field to pursue more lucrative careers, many centers have to close their doors, putting strain on the already stressed workforce community. In addition, if centers close, families won’t have access to childcare for their children and will be forced to stay home to care for them. Partners in Learning Assistant Director Aleshya Spruill said she receives at least 15 calls and emails per day from parents asking when a slot will be available for their child.

“Some families have been on the waitlist for over two years,” Spruill said. “It is so disheartening to know that I cannot meet their childcare needs. I have been in the field for 19 years and never have seen it this bad.” Partners In Learning is Rowan County’s only nationally accredited childcare. In addition, only 1 percent of the childcare centers in North Carolina are accredited, and Partners in Learning is one of that small number. As a result, children are losing out on early education opportunities, potentially causing an even more significant gap in literacy skills as they enter grade school. Children’s brains develop the most rapidly between birth to six, with 90 percent of their brain development complete by the time they start kindergarten. “The time to invest in our children’s foundation starts now,” said the Partners In Learning development director Amy Vestal. “Early education is the foundation for all future learning,” Partners In Learning Executive Director Norma Honeycutt added. “It allows us to bring awareness of the current childcare crises so policymakers can help develop solutions before the system collapses. Childcare centers have received compensation grants for teacher salaries for the past two years. Unfortunately, the grants were not included in the House budget. We hope the Senate will continue supporting the grants in their budget. The childcare system is vital for children, families, businesses, and our community. Mayor Alexander has long supported Partners In Learning, and we appreciate her advocacy and support.”

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