August 18, 2013

Amanda Burt: Filling the education gap

The Daily Citizen

— Meet Jonahs. Jonahs is one student who is excited about school starting because he was prepared for kindergarten with a solid preschool foundation at the Whitfield County-Dalton Day Care Center, a United Way partner agency.

Jonahs’ mother Sandra first became connected with the center 10 years ago when she was seeking child care for her 17-month-old daughter. After enrolling her, Sandra was happy with the fun and educational days her daughter was having with the welcoming staff at the day care.

When Sandra’s second daughter was 15 months old, she separated from her husband. She received support from the day care by attending classes offered on parenting, nutrition and discipline. The friendships she formed with the staff helped her through her financial and emotional struggle.

Now, Sandra serves on the organization’s Board of Directors as a parent representative and her son Jonahs has just entered kindergarten. Sandra’s daughters are both in the gifted learner program at their school. Thanks to United Way investors, Jonahs and his family were provided a safe, caring and educational environment in which to grow and learn together. Sandra is a perfect example of the value of United Way investments — she received support in a time of need, and now she is involved in her community and her children excel in school.

The foundation for a child’s success in school and life begins early. Education is one of the strongest influencers on a child’s future, determining if he graduates from high school, attends college and secures a job. Gaps in education exist in our community; for example, 138 children are on a waiting list to receive a high quality preschool education through United Way. We invite you to help fill the education gap in northwest Georgia. United Way promotes a successful start by investing in programs that provide school readiness, mentoring, safe places to play and child abuse prevention.

Children first begin to learn when they are born, taking in the new sights and sounds around them. It is crucial to continue the learning process in the home during these formative years before a child ever enters the kindergarten classroom. A 2009 study on the Disparities in Early Learning and Development showed that meaningful differences between children from low-income and higher-income families were evident in children as young as nine months and grew more pronounced by 24 months. These differences include cognitive development, general health and social-emotional development.

Some families are unable to provide their children with early learning at home because of the demands of work and the financial struggles of day-to-day life. These children are unfairly disadvantaged by their socioeconomic status.

How do we fill this education gap? United Way recognizes the importance of providing quality education programs to children of all backgrounds and support to families in need. United Way partners with community agencies that impact education including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Club, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Family Frameworks, Family Support Council, Friendship House, United Way Readers, Tutors and Mentors, Whitfield County-Dalton Day Care Center and Murray County 4-H. The United Way of Northwest Georgia also provides 13 full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members to local schools and educational organizations to support parent involvement, reading on grade level, preschool readiness and high school graduation.

An investment in United Way of $1,000 provides two children like Jonahs with kindergarten readiness through a nationally accredited preschool program. The benefits of organizations like the Whitfield County-Dalton Day Care Center clearly extend beyond just the child’s education by providing valuable services including parental education to mothers and families.

So how can you help? You can be an advocate for education by pledging to be a United Way reader, tutor or mentor. With an early emphasis on education, children will not struggle in school but will see the value in knowledge and be inspired to continue. United Way is committed to creating future leaders by helping our community offer educational opportunities for children, support for parents and services for families in need.

You can also make a financial investment to help more children like Jonahs succeed. Your investment will help get some of those 138 children just like Jonahs off the waiting list and into a high quality preschool.

Please join us. To learn more about United Way’s work in education and to join the call to action to give, advocate and volunteer, visit Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. You can hear Jonahs and his mom tell their story by visiting our YouTube channel, @UnitedWayNWGA. Most importantly, I invite you to make a financial investment in the 2013 United Way of Northwest Georgia campaign.   

Amanda Burt is the president of the United Way of Northwest Georgia. Financial contributions to United Way can be mailed to P.O. Box 566, Dalton, GA 30722.