BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - I don’t think it can be over stated - the power of pre-K. The research bears it out. That initial year of school before kindergarten is more than a transition period, and it can be super constructive in the building blocks of brain development.
Liz Huntley was with us when the furniture arrived for a new pre-K class at Leeds Primary School.
“I am an attorney by day and an advocate by triumph,” said Huntley.
Huntley is a high-powered lawyer and advocate for children and especially early childhood education. She is on the Board of Directors for Alabama School Readiness Alliance (ASRA), which pushes for the expansion Alabama’s First Class Pre-K, which has been the best in the nation for 13 years straight.
We knew she would be super excited to see the teachers and the start of a new pre-K class, one of more than 1,200 around the state this fall. Huntley said she screamed with delight over the initial announcement about the expansion.
“This 20-something plus million we are receiving is the largest that we’ve received over this 6-7 year period trying to expand access to high quality pre-K. Now, more than 40 percent of 4 year olds in Alabama, of course ASRA won’t stop until every 4 year old has the opportunity.”
Huntley recounted some of the research saying, “It is so critically important and again the science we know behind a child’s brain development. Ninety percent of their brain is developed before they reach age five. So, we know this window of their life is so critical that the right types of exposure exist in their world.”
Huntley’s experience and push for pre-K goes beyond academics. “I am a living product of it. I certainly would not be where I am today when you consider my background. My parents were drug dealers, my mom committed suicide, impoverished home where I was sexually abused,” Huntley said. “It was the intervention and the buffering of early childhood programs that literally saved my life.”
Her amazing story of triumph is chronicled in her book, “More Than A Bird”, highlighting how her teacher made all the difference and pre-K was an escape and beacon of what life was supposed to be like.
“Because it gave me the buffering of the nurturing environment that not only helps a child be school ready, but for those children like me who were struggling with all sorts of experiences, it’s an opportunity to use the power of nurturing to buffer those terrible incidents that children experience. And actually alter their brain development, and the power of pre-K is pretty amazing for what it can do for children.”
I watched as Huntley walked into the classroom where teachers were setting up furniture in the new pre-K classroom. She shook their hands and almost instantaneously told them how important their job is.
She said, “Science calls it nurturing, but I call it love, because what you do is love!”
“I have to brag a little bit. Here in the state of Alabama, for the 13th year in a row, we’ve been ranked number one in quality with our high quality pre-K in Alabama. It makes you proud to know we’ve decided that we are going to really invest and put our money where our mouth is, and let’s start out on the front end of this so that it will trickle up.”
Huntley admits it’s pretty frustrating that in 2019, 60 percent of 4 year old’s still won’t have access to the best pre-K in the nation. Huntley says we have contact lawmakers and let them know how much we want the state to invest more into pre-K.
“It’s a cheaper approach to invest in pre-K than investing and trying to rehabilitate later. For me it’s personal. I understand what you are doing for the human being the child and not just test scores,” Huntley continued.
The new class at Leeds Primary will make seven pre-K classrooms, and still there is a waiting list.