Shannon Nickinson: Ideas to improve early learning in Escambia County

We began compiling the responses to Quint and Rishy Studer’s “Be the Bulb” challenge, which will see the couple give away $50,000 in total for ideas that aim to improve early learning.

I’ve been through them all.

With several days left in the challenge, I don’t want to reveal too much about the hundreds of ideas, but I will say this: Some of you really had your thinking caps on.

I have spent a good portion of the last several years in the realm of kindergarten. It is a great place, by the way.

In my journalism career, I was an education reporter, as well as the editor who supervised and coached other education reporters. In my work here at the Studer Community Institute, I have spoken with citizens, researchers, teachers and parents about early childhood education more often than any other topic.

As the mother of two children under 10, including one who is a kindergartner this year, I am the institute’s most-tenured kindergarten devotee.

I watched both my girls go through an early learning center that nurtured them and let them play outside many times a day, and where “water day” and “ice cream day” were the highlights of the summer.

That let them play with puzzles and blocks, crayons and markers, sand tables and shaving cream tables, and paint and Play-Dough. A place where they had big, gymnastics-style blocks to climb on to build their gross motor skills and small, stackable one to develop their fine motor skills.

Where they did Christmas programs in the church sanctuary and Thanksgiving Day plays in their classrooms.

Where the teachers read and sang and to them, from the time they were in the infants room.

Where they learned baby sign language before they had all their words and how to put toys back in the cubbies when play was over.

Where the staff is required to meet twice the number of hours for professional development that the State of Florida requires.

Where turnover was low and I was welcomed to walk in anytime. Where I got a daily report card with notes from the teacher and progress reports through teacher conferences.

They made artwork that related to each letter of the alphabet as they learned it and for show-and-tell had to bring something from home that started with that letter.

Fun? Yep. Educational you bet.

And absolutely not every child’s experience.

Because I’ve also spent a lot of time in kindergarten classrooms in the last five years, as both observer and volunteer.

And believe me friends, not all of our children are on equal ground. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

Which is why I thank those of you who have shared your ideas for “Be the Bulb.”

Some of them are highly complex proposals; others are seemingly simple steps on what will be a long journey toward making sure that all of our children who can be ready for kindergarten, will be.

Many have common themes about what you think will help more children be better prepared for school. Several contain remembrances of what you enjoyed doing with your own children, or suggestions about what helped you get over a learning hurdle with your little one.

All of them reflect that we at the Institute have always said was a core part of our mission to improve the quality of life in this community we love.

The answer for what holds back Pensacola has been in our sights all along — we need only the courage to walk toward it and grab it.



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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