BELC Summit 2018Investing in Tomorrow’s Workforce” was the message shared at the Berks Early Learning Coalition (BELC) Summit on Tuesday, October 2, 2018, at the BCIU Main Office. The annual summit brought together approximately 70 participants comprised of business leaders, elected officials, higher education administrators, and school superintendents.

The annual event was intended to raise awareness around “The Economic Benefits of Investing Early,” presented by Dr. Lynn Karoly, keynote speaker. Much of Dr. Karoly’s recent child policy research has focused on the quality and availability of subsidized early care and education programs. Dr. Karoly shared with the participants results of studies showing the return on investment that can be gained by investing in early childhood programs. The overarching implication of her research is that programs, whether serving all families or those with greater needs, improve multiple outcomes where the benefits over time exceed the cost of implementation. Therefore, it is essential for business, community, and education organizations to work together to increase high quality early learning opportunities whenever possible.

Participants also heard from the BELC data committee on types of programming students attended, if any, prior to kindergarten. Data from two-thirds of total kindergarten students in public school districts was captured with the assistance of our school districts, by a survey of families at the time of kindergarten registration within the school district. Based on the data, the following questions were asked:

Is the number of students not attending a Pre-K program appropriate?

What can be done to elevate current STAR 1 and 2 centers to STAR 3 and 4 status?

This data will be used to show the benefits of quality Pre-K programming and will provide businesses with a statistical viewpoint of the longterm impact quality Pre-K can have on future employees. This information could expand opportunities for local business to support quality Pre-K programs in Berks County.

The second inquiry lead to the development of a collaborative program between the United Way of Berks County and Reading Area Community College (RACC) to address the goal of having 90% of Berks County 3rd graders to be proficient readers by 2023. Strategies to attain this goal include:

Assist teaching staff to obtain a Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential or Associate Degree

Retrain trained workers by providing financial incentives

Improve English proficiency of childcare providers

Ensure CDA-based curriculum is applied in childcare classrooms

Encourage childcare owner / director participation to support training / implementation