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Smallest Arizonans Face Education and Health Challenges

PHOENIX AZ (January 20, 2012) – A child’s most important developmental years are those leading up to kindergarten, and First Things First is using a recent report to remind Arizonans that kids 5 and younger face significant challenges in getting ready for school.

“This publication is a must-read for anyone interested in helping young kids,” FTF Chief Executive Officer Rhian Evans Allvin said. “Whether you are a parent, an early childhood professional, a policymaker, or a concerned citizen, Building Bright Futures details what it means and what it takes to help get kids to school prepared to succeed.”

Building Bright Futures is a biennial assessment on the needs of Arizona’s young children. The report highlights a number challenges facing the birth to 5 population, including:

  • 1 in four kids ages 5 and younger live in poverty;
  • More than half of Arizona’s children birth to 4 have never seen a dentist; and,
  • Only 58% of Arizona fourth graders scored at or above a basic reading level on federal assessments in 2011.

“Any of those numbers alone would be concerning,” Allvin said. “But, the mounting challenges – coupled with what science tells us about the impact of the early years on future learning and health – tell us that young kids in Arizona face a troubling future.”

In addition to these challenges, Arizona’s kids face greater expectations – and higher stakes – than ever before. Under a recent law, if they are not reading well enough by the end of third grade, they will be held back.

“Thankfully, that same research has demonstrated that providing support to families and education and health programs to kids before they enter school is the most efficient AND effective way to improve outcomes once they get to kindergarten,” Allvin said.

That’s why First Things First – through its statewide Board and 31 regional councils – has invested in a variety of strategies that are helping families prepare young kids for success in school and beyond. In the 2013 fiscal year, the organization has committed more than $164 million to early childhood programs, including:

  • Almost $76 million to improve the quality of and access to early learning programs;
  • More than $42 million to support parents in their role as their child’s first teacher; and,
  • Almost $24 million to improve child health, including developmental assessments, obesity prevention and oral health.

Allvin said individuals and organizations should similarly use Building Bright Futures to learn more about early childhood and make choices about how to help young children. The document offers a wealth of early childhood information in a variety of formats:

  • Read All About It: Last year, nearly 1 in 4 Arizona third graders did not pass the reading portion of the state standardized test. The number of words a child knows at age 3 strongly correlates with reading and comprehension levels at ages 9 and 10. This section offers tips to parents and caregivers on how they can support language and literacy development in their child and details how First Things First infuses literacy in to its funded programs.
  • Arizona School Readiness Indicators: How will we know that we are successful in our efforts to better prepare kids for kindergarten? This section reviews ten areas of education and health that, taken together, begin to paint a picture of the challenges children in our state face when preparing to enter school.
  • Statewide Data Summary and County-Specific Tables: How are kids in your community faring? This section outlines the overall status of children statewide, as well as on a county-by-county basis.

“This publication really is a valuable tool – a tool to learn about early childhood, how it impacts learning and literacy and the areas in which young kids in your community need support to arrive at school prepared to succeed,” Allvin said. “It is more than a document; it is a call to action to all Arizonans to get informed, get engaged and help get our kids ready for school and set for life.”

Read Building Bright Futures at azftf.gov, Reports and Publications section. First Things First is a voter-created, statewide organization that funds early education and health programs to help kids be successful once they enter kindergarten. Decisions about how those funds are spent are made by local councils staffed by community volunteers. To learn more, visit azftf.gov.

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