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May 1, 2012

Early learning official stresses reading

A “shocking” discovery Bobby Cagle made when he came on board to lead an early care and learning agency in Georgia was how officials in some states used third-grade reading levels to project how many future prisons they would need.

“One of the most shocking things I heard when coming into this job is that many states — thankfully Georgia’s not one of them — but many states base their prison projections, that’s the number of beds they will need, on the number of children who are reading on grade level at third grade,” said Cagle, the commissioner of Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL). “It is that predictive of children being in the criminal justice system if they can’t read well ... reading is so essential. We have studies that show if a child is not reading well by third-grade level they’re going to have difficulty the rest of their lives.”

Cagle visited the Kiwanis Club of Dalton on Monday. He told several dozen members during their weekly luncheon that DECAL does licensing and monitoring for about 6,500 child care and early learning centers around the state.

“That’s to ensure basic health and safety in those centers,” he said. “We’re also charged with our nutrition program, which is a federal program for underprivileged children. The number of meals we served last year was 88 million, in conjunction with community sponsors and facilities, including some of those (represented) in the room today.”

Cagle said he was orphaned as an infant and adopted by a social worker at 10 months old. He noted research in brain development in the last few years, saying breakthroughs can lead to “a stronger community and a stronger nation.” He called early learning centers — which were known as “day care” 25 years ago — the “most stimulating (learning) environment” for children whose parents may have social or emotional issues, or who struggle with substance abuse.

Cagle said early learning centers in Georgia also have an economic impact through 26,000 jobs.

He closed by asking Kiwanians to “get involved personally” in the community by stressing the importance of education and, specifically, reading.

“Go to these centers and read to children,” Cagle urged. “That gives an opportunity for many things to go on. It’s a chance for a child to interact with somebody they don’t personally know, and to hear (you) read ... in today’s world these children need to know things we never needed to know.”

He noted today’s children are in “an international world.”

“From day one they’re going to have to interact, when they get out of school, with people who have a very deep understanding of the world and how it works,” Cagle said. “And that’s what we need for them — we need the best educated children, those who are able to come into our work force and (move) forward.”

He thanked local leaders Dixie Kinard for serving on the Bright from the Start board of directors and state Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, for his interest and advocacy of children’s and education issues.

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