Tuesday January 15, 2013

Gov. Peter Shumlin's rousing inaugural address focused on the future that is here and looked ahead to creating a sustainable economy for the present and the next generation. At long last, a plan to address the concerns and complaints that Vermont's state government isn't doing something to help the economy and offer our young people incentives to stay in Vermont. For years, those complaints rang hollow by those who offered little or nothing to those ends, and now ... here's a plan.

Early education (ages 3-5) and quality child care (birth to age 2) is how we best affect the architecture of our children's developing brains. Research clearly shows the importance of those early years, especially in nurturing development of executive function in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. This is where higher thinking, such as the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) rise up from. And, research such as that from Adelle Diamond from the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Lab of University of British Columbia, shows that children need creative opportunities in the arts and lots of free play and exercise, to nurture development of that part of the brain where STEM subjects reside.

We also can't forget that for adults and children, recent research shows that only 150 minutes of exercise a week (30 minutes a day, five days a week) will keep us heart-healthy and help brain function into our golden years. Our kids need both.


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Another way we could do this, different from the Governor's plan, is to follow what's done in other countries, such as France, and make early care part of the Department of Education rather than the Agency of Human Services, as it is here.

If we truly want, as the governor stated, to provide quality education from birth to college, a coherent approach is to keep it within the Department of Education and pay the people who teach our pre-schoolers on the same scale as educators in school (with, of course, the same educational requirements). Paying a livable wage will encourage continuity of staffing and the quality our children deserve.

The governor's other proposals will hold us in good stead as well. Dual enrollment is already a reality in Brattleboro. The challenge is how to expand and pay for it, so financially, it's a win-win for all the schools involved.

While the governor is right to emphasize more math and science in our curriculum requirements, it is also vital to balance that with language arts, creative arts, and, most importantly, nurturing critical thinking in our students. Experiential learning through hands on opportunities out of the classroom, and in the community, can help with this and lets students learn by doing.

As the governor shared, it's time to put our money where our mouth is and get going with doing more and better for our kids. Our educational system does great work and now, in changing times, here's a way forward toward improvement .

From helping site the Vermont Technical College and Community College of Vermont in the Brooks House in downtown Brattleboro, to these new initiatives, Gov. Shumlin deserves high marks for putting forth the ideas on how to take our education system and economy into the 21st century.

Now it's time to get to work and build the bridges between the theories and practical applications.

Rep. Mike Mrowicki represents Windham 4 District -- Westminster, Putney and Dummerston -- in the Vermont Legislature.