CLARKDALE -- Yavapai College hosted an Arizona Town Hall outreach event Thursday, where about two dozen educators and residents talked about how to better educate Arizona's youngest learners.
The forum was organized in cooperation with Arizona Deliberates, a collaboration with Northern Arizona University and Maricopa Community College and Our Family Services. These micro-town hall events have taken place all over the state.
Tara L. Jackson, Arizona Town Hall president, said the input gathered during the lunch will be included as supplemental materials to a larger report published based on the main, statewide event in November 2013.
"How do we prioritize the many issues we need to deal with and what can we do to move it forward, whether it's reading to our child when we get home, or a neighbor's child," she said.
Attendees heard presentations of three different viewpoints on who holds the responsibility for early childhood education: the community as a whole, government or parents.
Yavapai College's Anne Rawlings led the discussion on how far community responsibility for early childhood education reaches.
Children under 8 years old are developing crucial social skills that people they encounter in their daily lives can help with. She said people can help just by saying hello to the kid next door, or strolling by in the grocery store.
"It's all the intangible things that are so important that we forget that kids need," Rawlings said. "Acknowledge their presence in your life and make them feel important, because they are important."
Jennifer Hernandez with Expect More Arizona facilitated the discussion on the role parents and families play as children's' first teachers.
She said it is the collective responsibility of a community not only to provide each family with the tools they need to provide for their young children during this critical time in their development, but do the research to make sure the programs being offered are useful and unduplicated.
"Parental involvement is paramount for children's success socially and academically," Hernandez said. "We want to meet them where they're at and equip them with the tools they need to help them thrive."
Coming into kindergarten, it's not uncommon for students to be lacking prior knowledge, experiences, and are lacking as much as 2,000 words compared to their peers.
Those children who make benchmark, about 11 percent, tend to make up the portion of the student population above the poverty line. About 14 percent of students are below benchmark, with 75 percent well blow benchmark.
Headstart and preschool serves a large role in what students walk into kindergarten knowing. About 25 percent or area children are being served by headstart.
"There's a large population of children that are not getting services in preschool," Cottonwood-Oak Creek Superintendent Barb U'Ren said. "It is our moral and ethical obligation to increase opportunities not for one tier of children, but for all tiers of children so that they thrive."
Someone in the audience pointed out that another issue with discussing early childhood education is bringing more voices into the conversation. Out of less than 30 attendees sitting in a semi-circle to facilitate discussion, three were men.
Jackson said those three men were also speakers during the lunch.
"That's not because the invitation to have this discussion did not go out to a broader audience," Jackson said. "The real issue for early education and education is how to get those involved who don't think it is their job or think it is not their problem."
Between each talking point, members of the audience were encouraged to speak. Arizona Town Hall board member Casey Rooney led the action portion of the discussion, and made sure each person had a moment with the microphone to talk about practical action items going forward.
In their final recommendations, the group agreed that they do not want Arizona to rank 48th nationally in education spending anymore, and that there need to be more ways for children to have access to early education opportunities.