New investments in early childhood education and intervention is welcome news to educators, healthcare professionals and parents facing lingering challenges associated with Flint’s water crisis.
Timing is everything and, particularly, for Flint’s youngest residents, it’s critical, according to health experts who report that children who have been exposed to high levels of lead may face a variety of challenges, especially cognitive issues that can impact their ability to think, reason and learn.
Early identification and intervention can help minimize risks and related impact in their development and ability to handle the kinds of everyday challenges we all face, but you have to know what to watch out for.
The bottom line: lead-exposed kids can and will learn, but may need additional help and support from trained professionals.
That is why city groups, from foundations to school districts and hospitals, are working quickly and with great effort to help Flint’s youngest residents:
- Avoid additional exposure to lead, particularly from lead-based paints typically found in older homes
- Protect against lead absorption by eating the right foods, in the right amounts, at the right times
- Receive early screening, intervention and support for cognitive issues related to lead exposure
Many of Flint’s families will need ongoing support to deal with lead exposure – and one way to put help where they need it most is through a new Early Childhood Education Center on the campus of Flint’s Durant-Turri-Mott Community School.
“People may not realize how important early intervention is.”
Support for this new all-day, all-year early education program and facility has been enormous, and is exactly what is needed to positively impact Flint and its children, educators say.
Young children who have been exposed to high levels of lead may have diminished ability to read, communicate and develop in the same ways as their peers, says Katherine Mazawey, a speech and language expert and teacher.
Mazawey, who has decades of teaching experience and now serves in a Macomb County school district, emphasizes that early intervention is key to Flint’s students developing the necessary skills to perform academically and, in turn, be good citizens. She applauds the new early childhood education center as an extremely positive step.
“People may not realize how important early intervention is,” Mazawey says. “When children are exposed to lead, it can have a lifelong impact. … Lead can damage their nervous system, which, in turn, affects everything from their appetite to their focus in school, to their ability to learn.”
BUILDING FOR A BETTER FUTURE
Construction of a new early childhood education center on the campus of Flint’s Durant-Turri-Mott Community School recently began, boosted by $9 million in support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The center will serve as many as 220 children beginning in fall 2017.
The new center represents the latest effort by local organizations that are working together to expand such access. In addition to Mott, they include the Community Foundation of Greater Flint (CFGF), Flint Community Schools (FCS), the Genesee Intermediate School District (GISD) and the University of Michigan Flint (UM-Flint).
At just over 36,000 square feet, the new center will feature 18 classrooms and several community rooms designed to keep the facility in use beyond the regular school day. In addition to highly skilled teaching staff, the center will house family support specialists who will link children, their parents and other community residents with needed services.
The Community Foundation of Greater Flint “seized the opportunity” to play a leadership role in this partnership, said Kathi Horton, president of CFGF.
“Repeatedly we heard from health professionals that one of the most important things to do for young children exposed to lead was to ensure they had access to high-quality, full-day, year-round early childhood education and care, so building a new, state-of-the-art early childhood center seemed like one of the best things to do,” says Horton. “This new center has, as part of its mission, to help increase access to high-quality, early childhood programming for all Flint families, not just the 220 children and families that will be served at the center.”
Mott awarded the $9 million grant to the Foundation for Flint, a supporting organization of CFGF. GISD will provide the educational programming, and UM-Flint will collect data and conduct research to help policymakers understand which practices are most effective at improving the lives of children and families.
“The Mott Foundation has long supported a continuum of K-12 education, after-school programs, and colleges and universities in Flint,” says Ridgway H. White, president of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. “But we recognize that more support is needed to expand access to early childhood education so all children in Flint can have a high-quality educational experience from the cradle through college.”
The state of Michigan also is playing a critical role. To help Flint families recover from the water crisis, the state has committed funding to support children’s free participation in high-quality, all-day, all-year early education programs.
“The Genesee Intermediate School District is proud to partner in the development of a state-of-the-art early childhood center that will benefit hundreds of students and families in our community,” says Lisa Hagel, superintendent of GISD. “We are eager to share our expertise in this area, as well as our input on creating a welcoming learning environment for families, caregivers, and our youngest children.”
Flint Community Schools is committed to positioning our students for success through world-class programs and offerings, says Deputy Superintendent Sharrece Farris.
“The Early Childhood Learning Center ensures even more students will have access to educational programs from a young age, and we are grateful to the community partners that are making this a reality,” Farris says. “Early childhood education improves academic outcomes for children, and goes hand-in-hand with the district’s ongoing efforts to create long-term solutions for our students.”
Flint deserves no less, Horton says.
“This center will be devoted to the whole child and whole family and, as part of its programming, look to link children and parents with a comprehensive array of services and supports that promote optimum growth and development and family stability,” Horton adds. “There is abundant research that emphasizes the critical importance of early childhood development as providing the pathway to a child’s life. When young children get the best there is available to support their growth and development they are far more likely to succeed in school and lead the kind of life every parent wants for their child. The mission of this center is to provide the very best in early childhood services to the children and families of Flint.”
More information about the new center and the application process to enroll a child will be available in the spring.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of TheHUB Flint
Lead photo: The new Early Childhood Education Center at Durant-Turri-Mott will provide all-year, early education, intervention and support to students in need and help them learn how to conquer stress in their everyday lives. File courtesy of the Crim Fitness Foundation Mindfulness program
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institutes of Health (NIH), report that exposure to environmental toxins, such as high levels of lead at a young age can lead to Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD).
Typical warning signs include:
- Difficulty paying attention (inattention)
- Being overactive (hyperactivity)
- Acting without thinking (impulsivity)
Young children with ADHD often:
- Overlook or miss details, fail to finish schoolwork, chores or duties
- Start, but have difficulty completing things (get easily sidetracked)
- Have a hard time paying attention, particularly for long period of time
- Avoid tasks that require concentration, like schoolwork or chores.
- Get easily distracted
Signs of hyperactivity and impulsivity may include:
- Fidgeting and squirming while seated
- Getting up and moving around in situations when staying seated is expected, such as in the classroom
- Running or dashing around or climbing in situations where it is inappropriate
- Being unable to play or engage in hobbies quietly
- Being constantly “on the go,” or acting as if driven by a motor
- Talking nonstop
- Blurting out an answer before a question has been completed, finishing other people’s sentences, or speaking without waiting for a turn in conversation
- Having trouble waiting his or her turn
- Interrupting or intruding on others, such as in conversations, games, or activities
Although there is no cure for ADHD, available treatments may help reduce symptoms and improve functioning. ADHD is commonly treated with medication, education, training, therapy, or a combination of treatments.
Health professionals and educators are trained to watch for, identify and employ therapies to address ADHD and related development issues. If you see signs of ADHD in your child, seek access to available support.