Dr. Cynthia Hicks, Associate Professor in the College of Education, talks with state officials during a tour of the Coleman Center.
State lawmakers from throughout the Wiregrass toured the Coleman Center for Early Learning and Family Enrichment Tuesday to learn how Troy University’s new early learning lab school can inform efforts to improve the quality of early childhood education programs across the state.
The Coleman Center provides high-quality early learning and care for children in the Wiregrass region from six weeks through age 5. The center houses three state-funded First Class Pre-K classrooms, which were made possible by the $26.8 million increase in state appropriations for First Class Pre-K that was approved by the state legislature in May. Lawmakers were able to visit with the pre-kindergarten students during their tour of the center.
The Alabama School Readiness Alliance organized today’s visit and members of its board and business-led Pre-K Task Force were in attendance.
“Ninety percent of a child’s brain is developed before the age of five, and the Coleman Center for Early Learning and Family Enrichment is a model for what communities can do to help more children receive the resources they need to thrive,” said Erin Stephenson, vice president of client and community relations at PNC Bank, and the president of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance Board of Directors. “The center is also a learning laboratory for university students studying early childhood education at Troy Dothan. Troy University is stepping up to the plate to prepare the next generation of high-quality early childhood educators for the Wiregrass and the state of Alabama.”
The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education manages the First Class Pre-K program. For 13 years in a row, the National Institute for Early Education Research has ranked Alabama’s pre-k program as the number one state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality.
New research by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham has found that students who participate in a First Class Pre-K classroom — regardless of demographics, zip code or school — are more likely to be proficient in math and reading than their peers.
“Studies have shown that these children not only are excelling in areas of math and reading, but those benefits are long-lasting when compared to other Pre-K programs that are in other states,” said Nancy Mitta, Director of the Coleman Center.
The ASRA Pre-K Task Force consists of more than 60 prominent leaders from the business, education, civic, medical, legal, philanthropic, military, and child advocacy communities. The Pre-K Task Force first proposed expanding voluntary pre-k access to all families in 2012. Since then, state leaders have incrementally increased the level of investment in Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program from $19 million to $122.8 million. In 2012, the program enrolled just six percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds. In the 2019-20 school year, nearly 40 percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds attend First Class Pre-K.