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Kansas City, Mo., Business Leaders Hope to Educate Public About Early Learning

The business community in Kansas City, Mo., is working to educate the public about the importance of quality early-childhood education.

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce is in the middle of an awareness campaign about the issue called Pre-KC.

file.jpeg"We spend a lot of money on secondary education for students, but when you're looking at the science our brains are 90 percent developed by the age of 3," said Jasmin Williams, the project director for the chamber who is overseeing the project. "I think more resources need to be funneled towards early learning."

Through the program, parents can sign up to receive monthly Sesame Street in Communities toolkits about issues concerning early childhood. The kits contain information in English and Spanish on diverse topics such as how to talk to a young child about divorce, how to help support a child with asthma, and how to best teach letters and numbers. Each kit also includes a plush Sesame Street character and giveaways from the local business community of things like free passes to LEGOLAND Discovery Center and coupons for summer camps.

Sesame Street in Communities is a new initiative of the Sesame Workshop, which is designed to help give children, particularly those who are the most vulnerable, a better start in life.

Pre-KC also offers free workshops known as Sesame Sessions for parents each month that take place in different locations around the city. Parents are encouraged to bring their children to these interactive sessions on topics such as helping preschoolers explore their emotions and learning through play.

Pre-KC Funders

Pre-KC is funded by local businesses and community organizations such as the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit that works to support education and entrepreneurship in the city.

Halley French is a program officer in education at Kauffman. She says she sees Pre-KC as a jumping off point for the nonprofit's longer-term goals to push for increased funding for early learning and for the establishment of early-childhood education quality indicators in the region.

"Pre-KC is able to rally a lot of uncommon advocates in this space to come up with a unified message around the importance of quality early childhood in our community," said French. "As a community, we can identify some of the sectors where we're noticing gaps. We're not getting skilled laborers in certain areas, and a lot of times we can track it down to children not having the strongest foundation as they enter our school system, and from there they just get further and further behind."

Miles Sandler is Kauffman's director of engagement-education. She says the hope is that programs like Pre-KC will eventually lead to more support for early learning from the state, which will lead to more access to high-quality programs for young children in the area.

"The more advocates that we build, the more champions that we build, the stronger voice we have in encouraging for more access, more quality to be established here in the Kansas City community," said Sandler, who argues that lawmakers may be more inclined to listen to business leaders. "If they bring up to policymakers the importance of early education, they carry a different weight, and I think that that's essential as we start to really elevate the importance of this work."

Parents in the community have been supporting the program. In March, the chamber sent out more than 200 toolkits. Last month, that number grew to more than 600.

The chamber has raised more than $500,000 in support of the program that launched in February. That includes a $300,000 grant from the Kauffman Foundation. The program is set to wrap up at the end of July, but there's been such strong community backing that organizers say they may consider extending it.

Photo: A girl from poses in front of her monthly subscription Pre-KC box. Courtesy Laura Mulcahy

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