Creation of the Nebraska Early Childhood Research Academy marks another important upgrade of efforts in the state to help children develop before they start going to school.
Those efforts, broadly supported by groups as disparate as business, the military, law enforcement, educators and social workers, are based on research showing that the early months and years of a child’s life are crucial to success.
There have been a couple of highlight moments in the evolution of early childhood efforts in the state. One of the first was voter approval in 2006 to establish a permanent endowment fund for early childhood education with an initial investment of $40 million in public dollars and $20 million in private donations. The second was creation of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska with an endowment of more than $100 million.
Not all the progress had has the impact of those two events, but it has been steady.
The new childhood research academy, part of an initiative at UNL in which nine faculty members will be hired to join the 65 already addressing early childhood issues, means increased campus research and expanded collaboration.
“Bottom line is this is not a flash in the pan; it’s not a short-term investment," said Marjorie Kostelnik, dean of UNL’s College of Education and Human Sciences. “It is an institutional investment that will last far longer than any of us. It is part of the fabric of the University of Nebraska.”
It’s also increasingly true that efforts to improve early childhood education have spread beyond campus.
In Lincoln, for example, the $10 million Educare Center in Belmont is providing research-based child care for at-risk children from birth to age 5.
In Omaha the “superintendent’s early childhood plan” is working to eliminate or reduce social, cognitive and achievement gaps among at-risk children in the 11 school districts in the Learning Community in Douglas and Sarpy counties.
Last year the Buffett Institute began a “workforce development program” designed to enhance the skills of the people who provide child care and teaching to children from birth to third grade.
As part of the institute’s outreach, Samuel J. Meisels, director, and other officials with the Buffett institute have met with community leaders all across the state.
The problems experienced by children in early childhood can change the architecture of the brain and become an ingredient in a generational “transmission of failure,” Meisels told educators in Scottsbluff earlier this year.
"We have what we think is a wonderful vision for the institute that Nebraska will be the best place in the nation to be a baby,” he said.
When one connects all the dots, it’s clear that the institute is making progress toward that goal. Nebraskans should be proud and supportive and hope for continued success.