Although hidden beneath the earth, strong roots are essential to the livelihood of a tree, just like the first five years of a child’s life are essential to a solid foundation. During the first five years, a child’s brain is the most flexible, and 90 percent of capacity is developed. With this in mind, KC Ready 4s was organized ten years ago, as an initiative of ISAAC, to provide support to independently owned private pre-school areas in Kalamazoo. “Foundation is key. It’s possible to overcome obstacles in education in K-12, but if you’re able to get the building blocks early and truly get a high-quality education at that level, it sets you down a path for success,” said Travis Cree member of the fund development and 10th-anniversary committees at KC Ready 4s.
Growing from a community of 5 to 56 preschools that serves one-third of all Kalamazoo County four-year-olds, KC Ready 4s provides tuition assistance and support services such as teacher mentors and speech therapists as well as collaboration and professional development opportunities. Former Board President and current Co-chair of the Tenth Anniversary Committee, Shirley Johnson has a strong passion for early childhood development and joined the program during its task force stage. “It’s very special to see people, businesses, and other organizations come to understand how critically important early childhood is to building a strong community. I feel very blessed to live in this community that really embraces and understands how important it is to prepare our young people and support their families,” said Shirley.
To honor the tenth anniversary and highlight the impact early childhood education has on the community, KC Ready 4s worked with Maestro to curate a series of ten videos. The first one details the history and importance of KC Ready 4s, while others to be released throughout the month will introduce you to current students, illustrate the impact of the program on families, and explain the economic benefits of early childhood education.
Studies have shown that early childhood education has an impact on the overall prosperity of a community resulting in not only higher salaries but also improved educational outcomes, lower rates of child maltreatment, and reductions in juvenile crime.
Co-chair of the tenth-anniversary celebration, Ken Miller began supports KC Ready 4s because of his belief and support in Kalamazoo. “Going back to the 4s and the 3s, the foundational stages, does play a significant part in the quality of our community, our current citizens, and the kind of citizens,” said Ken. “To create the kind of community that does take care of its people, to me that’s not just a social issue, that’s an economic development issue.”
Throughout the pandemic, Executive Director Kristyn Buhl-Lepisto and the KC Ready 4s team have pivoted efforts to support pre-school providers with navigating PPP loans, updated licensing requirements, and developing tailored content to help navigate the adaptations required. “People right now, I think in a pandemic, really get the importance of early education, of our educators, of how hard the work is, and how important having childcare and high-quality places for their kids to go, said Kristyn. “There’s really no economy for us if we don’t have those things set up for our children.”
While much has changed over the years and will continue to, KC Ready 4s is dedicated to supporting the essential resource of early childhood development. “We know we’ve accomplished a lot. We’re very proud of the work we’ve done, but there’s a lot more work to be done,” said Shirley. “We’re always working to grow upwards.”