Pocatello resident William Strength grew up “in a broken home.” His parents fought drug and gambling addictions and, when he started his own family, Strength faced his own struggles with addiction.
It wasn’t until he enrolled his daughter in Head Start that he was able to obtain his GED and start his college education.
“I was in and out of jail until Head Start came along,” Strength said before Wednesday’s early education rally at the Idaho State Capitol.
The rally, organized by Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children Executive Director Beth Oppenheimer, involved several guest speakers, including Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Reps. Hy Kloc and Christy Perry, who urged citizens to vote for lawmakers who would invest in affordable public early education.
The rally was part of Early Learning Legislative Day at the capitol, which also consisted of presentations to the House Education Committee and a BLOCK Fest, where children demonstrated learning through play.
“You guys showing up is the first step,” Kloc told rally-goers. “Now you need to talk to us. I really don’t want to be the last in the nation for early education.”
Little is working with lawmakers on legislation to support the state’s goal of 60 percent of people 25 to 34 years old going onto a college education or obtaining some sort of certificate. To accomplish that, he said,“we can’t do it without talking about early learning.”
Idaho is one of five states not investing in early education for the public, Oppenheimer said.
“Half of our kids are entering kindergarten that are not prepared to learn to read,” she said. “We think the state needs to invest so that all children have opportunities to start kindergarten that very first day ready to learn.”
She told the House Education Committee about the importance of brain development and its effect on education.
“The brain develops 90 percent by the time a child reaches 5 years old,” Oppenheimer said. “We as a community need to do everything we can to provide those opportunities and resources for them so that they’re ready to go to school.”
During the BLOCK Fest, children played with blocks of all shapes and colors in the capitol rotunda, demonstrating their learning processes through social engagement and fun.
Strength said that, enrolling in Head Start, his daughters were able to read Harry Potter in second grade — novels that require a sixth- to eighth-grade reading level.
His wife went to school to eventually become a Head Start teacher. Head Start helped Strength find the confidence to “be a better man, be a better father” and pursue his own education.
“Head Start’s in its 51st year now,” Strength said. “You don’t last that long unless you’re doing something right.”