When evaluating early learning and school readiness it is important to think holistically about children and their environment. In a perfect world child advocates and educators would only need to focus on teacher quality, safe learning environments, and early learning standards, but we know that is simply not the case. Children live in families and there is a highly disproportionate rate of low-income children in single, female-headed households. With that being said, as the Early Care and Education Program Officer here at The Women’s Foundation, I am extremely concerned about how the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction’s (super committee) failure to come up with a solution will affect young children being ready to learn on the simplest micro level – their stomachs.
In December, the super committee failed to come up with a bipartisan plan to reduce the national deficit. This led to a six percent cut in the fiscal year 2013 budget for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which provides nutritious foods to pregnant women, infants, and children. This will lead to many pregnant women and young children not having the resources to enjoy a nutritious meal. How can we expect children to be able to count to 20 or learn their ABCs when we are cutting the plan that ensures that their minds are getting the vitamins and nutrients needed to process the information? I always cringe when I hear a teacher who has a class of low-income children complain that the reason why their students are not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is because they come to school hungry – but at the same time there is some truth to that excuse. As an adult, I know that the first thing I need to do in the morning is eat a well balanced meal before I am able to be productive. How can I expect any less from children who, unlike me, may not have even had a warm meal the night before for dinner?
And for those who ask why we need to focus on providing food for pregnant woman, a recent TED Talk by science journalist Annie Murphy Paul looks at how learning actually begins in the womb. In her lecture, Paul explores the field of fetal origins, a remarkable new area of research on how a woman’s pregnancy and the environment she is pregnant in affect her child’s health and overall development. A particular part of the presentation to take note of is the findings from the children born after Holland’s Hunger Winter, a time during World War II when residents of that European nation faced starvation because they were under siege by Germany, and its impact on people born in the months immediately after the siege.
In a time when we have advanced in our thinking around education and the importance of wrap around services and holistic approaches to learning, how can we stand by and let such a program be cut without making some noise?
The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) is giving us the opportunity to tell President Obama and Congress that supporting nutrition and other safety net programs is critical to giving low-income children a chance at succeeding in school. Click here to find out what steps you can take to make some noise.
Maya Garrett is the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative Program Officer at The Women’s Foundation.