Half-Penny For Their Thoughts

By Dan Conaway


See the children. See them run.

See the children. See them play.

See the children. See them see.

See the children. See them learn.

See the children. See all that’s possible.

About a year ago, I was preparing to write the annual report for the Memphis City Schools pre-kindergarten program. Just a quick review of numbers and comparative stats told me this whole pre-k thing is on to something. Just a minute or two into any meeting with the teachers involved showed a kind of passion that only comes with the knowledge that what you’re doing works, and that what it means is much larger than you. Just one glance at the whole-world-is-mine smiles of the kids running toward the photographer in what would be our cover shot gave me the cover headline.

“Tomorrow. We’ve got your back.”

They were all pre-k kids at Snowden School. All 4, going on 5. All energetic, going on unstoppable. All irresistible, going on irrepressible.

They’re all ours, and more than that, they’re all we can hope for, and the more we do for them early the more they’ll do for themselves and for all of us later. Nourish them – body and brain and heart – when they’re small, the taller they’ll grow, the longer shadow they’ll cast, the greater impact they’ll have, the better life they’ll live. Leave them behind, and the question isn’t whether or not they’ll get ahead. The question is whether or not they’ll even catch up.

Pre-k is the answer. In pre-k, in the one school year of 2010-2011, their gross motor skills doubled and their fine motor skills tripled. Self-help ability doubled, speech and language improved by two-and-a-half times, and general knowledge grew by more than 400 percent.

Tests for kindergarten readiness showed MCS pre-k students scoring higher than children in Head Start and childcare centers, and much higher than parent or relative care – 48 percent higher in math readiness, in fact, and 61 percent higher in language.

These are quantitative and qualitative measurements of the program’s worth, compelling data that compels support. This is the proof the City Council, County Commission and unified school board need to commit their support – their guarantee – that universal pre-k will be funded from the half-cent sales tax increase on the ballot. This is what you need to know to vote for that increase – to give a piece of a half-penny from a dollar spent in Shelby County to give our kids a better chance from the get-go and to give us all better odds tomorrow. A little change from us. Big change for them.

To see more proof, just look at pre-k kids.

Just look at their faces when something unknown is discovered, look in their eyes when the power of that knowledge shines, look at their posture and attitude when they’ve just done something all by themselves they’ve never done before.

See what the world will be worth someday.

I’m a Memphian, and there is no question. Pre-k is the answer.

Dan Conaway is a lifelong Memphian, longtime adman and aspiring local character in a city known for them. Reach him at dan@wakesomebodyup.com.