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Philadelphia officials stress importance of early education programs

Philadelphia and state officials gathered Thursday morning to celebrate the expansion of a well-established pre-kindergarten program in the Oxford Circle area and to highlight increased state spending on programs in the early childhood.

The officials — including Mayor Jim Kenney, Sheriff Rochelle Bilal and newly elected state Rep. Anthony Bellmon — toured classrooms at the Amazing Kidz Academy in the 1200 block of East Cheltenham Ave.

This year, Amazing Kidz, which has four locations, was able to add 80 locations through PreK Counts and Head Start following a combined $79 million increase for programs lawmakers passed in Pennsylvania’s current budget. Thursday’s event was the opening ceremony for new classrooms at Glading Presbyterian Church.

The event was sponsored by Pre-K for PA, a non-partisan coalition of individuals and organizations campaigning to increase the availability of high quality, affordable early childhood programs.

Additional state support for preschool is important “because looking at Philadelphia as a whole, we know that 43% of income-eligible 3- and 4-year-olds, or 12,000 children, have no no access to high-quality, publicly funded early childhood education programs.-K,” said Lisa Smith, owner and operator of Amazing Kidz.

“Free, high-quality pre-kindergarten is a universal opportunity for society and families of all demographics to level the playing field in kindergarten readiness and make children lovers of learning. for life,” Smith said.

Amazing Kidz has capacity for 452 children and employs 53 staff members across four locations, Smith said. Smith was able to buy three buildings in Glading – the gymnasium, the church and the school.

Carol Austin, executive director of Children First, a pre-K advocacy group, said the issue inspires agreement across parties and across demographics. Austin noted that in a poll last year of registered voters, 90% agreed that early care and education are important to help “put children on the path to healthy, productive lives. Imagine trying to get 90% of people to agree on something. Yet they did.

Kenney, who will step down in January 2024 after serving two terms, relates to the city’s early childhood initiative, PHLPre-Kas one of his greatest achievements.

During one visit, Kenney sat with children in two classrooms as they learned letters and sounds and then cracked a joke at his own expense.

“People say I don’t smile,” he later said. “If you want to see me happy, take me to a pre-K.”

He told a story in which one of his own assistants went to a pre-K with him that she herself had taken when she was 4 years old. He also recalled the SEPTA bus driver and mother of two, who told him that the availability of a free, high-quality pre-K had helped him find a job.

Additionally, he said, many child care centers and child care centers are family-run businesses, and many are run by women, especially women of color.

“These kids are perfect,” he remarked. “They don’t see race, they don’t see age, they are who they are. We have to keep them on that path.

Dale Mezzacappa is Senior Writer for Chalkbeat Philadelphia, where she covers K-12 schools and early childhood education in Philadelphia. Contact Dale at [email protected]

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