Shannon Nickinson: Communities need to make sure kids are ready for kindergarten

Juan Gray

Sometimes it’s not about having all the answers — it’s about knowing where to go to find them.

The Golden Apple roundtable is a gathering of teachers of the year from Escambia Schools. It’s a forum where the best and brightest minds on the front lines of education in Escambia County get together to share ideas, expertise and inspiration.

Picking those brains was a no-brainer.

Following research that began in late 2013, the Studer Community Institute has two priority areas of focus for 2016 — early education from ages 0 to 5 and job development.

Both measures are reflected in the Institute’s Pensacola Metro Dashboard, a set of metrics developed with the University of West Florida to track the economic, educational and social well-being of the community.

Though they may seem like opposite ends of the spectrum — 5-year-olds and job seekers — economic and social science research indicates that the links between these two groups can be strong.

Children who start school behind — as nearly 1,000 children in Escambia County do every year — are more likely to struggle throughout school and are less likely to graduate on time with their peers.

Young people without a high school diploma can expect to earn less in their lifetime.

If you go where the data lead, you find that a community with a higher level of educational attainment is a place with a more prepared workforce — one ready to be hired by companies big and small for the jobs in demand.

And a community where nearly 34 percent of 5-year-olds show up to school lacking the skills they’ll need to be ready to learn what our school system demands of them starts out at a disadvantage.

A 2014 analysis of the Pensacola metro area job market found significant gaps between the education pipeline and the kinds of jobs the workforce is demanding.

And according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, only 23.7 percent of Escambia residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The people who see this every day are our teachers.

They know which students start out behind the curve, and they know which ones have a chance to make it and which don’t.

So we asked some of those teachers of the year what are the consequences to the community when so many children start school unprepared.

On their list:

— Long-term negative economic impacts will continue.

— Decreased involvement in community in everything from voter turnout to home ownership.

— Generational deficits in families will continue.

— Creates social deficits that can increase crime rates.

— Those deficits in turn mean money will be spent on correction of issues instead of proactive issues.

— Property value decreases, poverty increases, mental and physical health issues go untreated until they reach a critical point, when they are more expensive and difficult to address.

Which means that if you own a business that needs to hire employees, or if you enjoy living in a community that is safe, healthy, economically diverse and vibrant, kindergarten readiness matters a lot to your future.

Even if those children aren’t related to you by blood. Because they are all related to you by the ties that bind a community that values all of its citizens.

The teachers say so.


Shannon Nickinson is a fellow at the Studer Community Institute, a Pensacola nonprofit dedicated to using journalistic strategies to improve the quality of life in the community, and is editor of Follow her on Twitter @snickinson. Column courtesy of Context Florida.  

Shannon Nickinson


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