(StatePoint) Today, there is more awareness that the future of the world is in the hands of young children. It’s understood that between birth and 5 years of age, the brain develops rapidly to build the foundation of cognitive and character skills necessary for success in school, health and life. It is now widely accepted that the same dollar will go much further if invested early than it will later on, and more research is showing that quality early childhood education reduces dropout rates, poverty and crime, while improving the skills of the workforce of tomorrow.
However, inequality in early childhood education produces inequality in ability, achievement, health and adult success.
One example of a program leading the charge to move the needle is PNC Grow Up Great, a bilingual initiative to help children from birth through age 5 prepare for success in school and in life, now celebrating its 15th anniversary. Grow Up Great goes beyond the classroom, supporting learning and social-emotional development at home and across communities, by providing free resources and tools to parents, guardians, teachers and caregivers.
When PNC employees chose this philanthropic focus in 2004, investing in early childhood education generally did not have the widespread support it does today. Fifteen years ago, in its headquarters state of Pennsylvania, the government didn’t have a line item in its budget for early childhood education, and fewer than 2,400 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded preschool programs. In 2017, more than 28,000 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled in Pennsylvania state-funded preschool programs, according to research done by the National Institute for Early Education Research.
A lot has changed in 15 years, but one thing has remained the same, PNC’s focus on and commitment to improving access to quality early childhood education. To date, more than 5 million children across the country have been supported through PNC’s grants and educational programming. Employees spent more than 100,000 hours volunteering for Grow Up Great in 2018, up 13 percent from 2017.
That trend is significant and powerful. The company has made a difference by leveraging its influence with the business community, policymakers and other key stakeholders to garner support for quality early childhood education. And teaming with partners that share its goals such as Sesame Workshop, Fred Rogers Productions and the National Head Start Association. Working with The Pew Charitable Trusts and Committee for Economic Development, they launched the first-ever summit of the nation’s top economists to explore the economic impact of investment in early education.
“All children deserve to begin their lives on equal footing and receive high-quality early learning experiences that have a lifelong positive impact,” says Sally McCrady, chair and president of the PNC Foundation. “Fortunately, we are making progress and look forward to the day that vision becomes a reality.”