Celebrating a Milestone

By Dr. Stacy Howard, the Florida Children’s Council. The field of early learning professionals achieved a collective milestone in 2012 – one that has had a meaningful impact on more than 1 million of the state’s youngest children.

On Election Day back in 2002, Florida voters approved an amendment that created the state’s first-ever voluntary prekindergarten education program. It is hard to believe that VPK’s place on the early learning system timeline has hit the 10 year mark!

Following that monumental step was several years of preparation including passage of laws and budgets, development of governmental infrastructure and recruitment of providers. If you were in the early learning field back then, you will remember this time as being not only exciting and with reward, but also challenging. As with all new laws and programs, there are many unanswered questions and some answers are only revealed once the rubber hits the road.

Without hesitation, thousands of local business owners, public school professionals, early learning advocates and government leaders stepped up to the plate to make VPK a reality.

The first VPK school bell rang in August 2005 when Florida’s VPK program opened its doors to all eligible 4-year-olds and their families. Today, our state’s VPK program is serving eight out of every 10 four-year-olds. Access to the program has increased thanks to a 46 percent increase in the number of child care businesses and public settings offering VPK.

That’s a tremendous credit to our early learning professionals dedicating their lives to the education and success of our youngest children. These are everyday Floridians who are not only role models and teachers to our children, but who also are making significant impacts on our state as small business owners, employees and bread winners for their families.

The early learning system contributes to a much greater reward for Floridians as VPK’s outcomes extend well beyond individual children’s lives. Children benefit by being exposed to learning-rich environments that foster their potential and lay the foundation for becoming our future leaders and stewards. In turn, our communities benefit from having children and youth equipped to cope with everyday challenges; well prepared to make positive choices in life.

VPK’s celebrated journey thus far is shared by children, families, early learning professionals, community leaders, advocates, experts and the visionaries who set VPK’s course into action years ago. As with all journeys, part of moving forward is an understanding of the past. The 10-year mark is a perfect opportunity to reflect on the path we’ve take so far and determine the best course of action for charting the path ahead. Although VPK’s journey deserves notable recognition, there is still much to be done.

With 2013 upon us, we can ask ourselves if we are doing all that we can to ensure children reach, and better yet, exceed their full potential.

I, for one, look forward to the challenge!

Click here for a fun look at Florida’s VPK program by the numbers.