BRATTLEBORO >> About a dozen parents or caregivers gathered at Brooks Memorial Library with children for "Rhyme Time," the weekly get-together where songs and stories are shared with children under the age of 5.
"Not everyone in Vermont is lucky enough to have libraries that do this or the flexibility to do this," said Beth Reed, a volunteer for the Let's Grow Kids awareness campaign aimed at improving access to quality early child care in Vermont. "You folks are already the choir."
Reed said 72 percent of children below the age of 6 in Vermont have all their parents in the workforce. Between 40 and 50 percent of kids are not prepared for kindergarten according to state testing, she added before asking people to sign a pledge to be sent to the Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality, Affordable Child Care.
The Legislature in Vermont formed the commission in June 2015 to come up with strategies and recommendations on the issue. A report is expected this November.
"I want a society where all children can grow and live to their full potential," the pledge says. "Because 80 percent of a child's brain develops by age 3, building the foundation for success in life, I believe it's important we ensure that Vermont's children have quality learning experiences. Therefore, I support efforts to build positive, lasting change that will allow all of our children the opportunity to succeed in life."
The pledge can be signed at letsgrowkids.org. Stories detailing any relevant struggles are welcome along with signatures.
In a document titled "The Accessibility Challenge," Let's Grow Kids said childcare is a hard profession to stay in. Vermont Department of Labor projections show that between 2012 and 2022, nearly 70 percent of child-care employee positions that become available will be due to turnover. One of the reasons, the campaign said, is the average annual income for a child-care worker in Vermont is only $24,070.
"This is $6,000 LESS than what Vermont's Joint Fiscal Office says is a livable annual income," the document said, referring to a livable wage for a single adult with no children who lives in shared housing and has to purchase health insurance on their own.
Reed visited Brooks Memorial Library to celebrate the Month of the Young Child during National Library Week. The same library will host a toddler dance party on Friday, April 22, from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. Parents or caregivers are asked to sign up ahead of time.
Other libraries around the state were scheduled to get similar presentations from Let's Grow Kids this week. National Library Week is a national observance sponsored by the American Library Association to celebrate the work of libraries and librarians, according to a press release.
Reed is an adjunct professor at Plymouth State University, Southern New Hampshire University and Granite State College. She said she loves teaching a course on the human brain.
"I wanted to be a teacher even before I was old enough to go to school," she said.
Having grown up with younger brothers and sisters, Reed said she played school almost every single day. Being the oldest, she was always the teacher. That followed her through life as she pursued a career in education.
But at the age of 22, Reed became disappointed. She had started teaching elementary schools kids who she said were "already way behind their peers." Some students had developmental delays, which happens when children do not reach certain milestones at expected times.
"They could have been remedied had someone known they were struggling," Reed said. "They were frustrated and had low self esteem."
Other students were presented with "inappropriate" expectations early on.
"They were drilled too early and had given up too early because they had been asked to do things their brains weren't ready for," she said.
Reed decided there were ways to individualize teaching experiences to address students' issues and help them. She said she started thinking that if she could have assisted earlier, the kids might not be counting down the days until the end of school. They might have enjoyed learning.
Changing gears, Reed said, she found a job at an early childhood center then went back to school to get her master's degree in early childhood. Now she's teaching the subject to those training to become early childhood teachers. She lives in White River Junction.
"The myth that any care is good care is not true," Reed told the Reformer.
Contact Chris Mays at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.