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O. So Exciting.

O. So Exciting.

Remember the days when the tiniest wonder could spark pure joy? A bug found. A dog kiss to the face. A splash of water. That’s how this preschooler felt upon correctly identifying the letter O.

Most adults probably haven’t experienced that kind of elation in decades. But, that’s exactly what will be propelling Leeyah to her first day of kindergarten. She knows her letters and she’s ready to learn!

She’s one of 30 preschoolers taking part in an early literacy program in the Waterbury school system that’s all about making sure city kindergartners begin school on an equal footing. It’s funded by a three-year, $30,000 early literacy grant from Liberty Bank Foundation.

Leeyah’s class peers are a sea of shining faces and squirmy bodies having fun as they learn. In particular this group is focusing on recognizing all letters of the alphabet, writing their names, and practicing phonics. There’s also time for things that seem like play – picking up plastic critters with tweezers – but that are actually boosting their fine motor skills.

Once a week, parents are invited to join their children in a class project, for instance making “dirt” out of chocolate pudding and Oreos. This assignment is certainly another reason for big smiles, but also a way to reinforce science vocabulary and following instructions.

It’s a three-week summer program that runs from 8am to noon. Children have bus transportation to and from the program and receive a snack and lunch while they’re in class.

A recent Connecticut Voices for Children policy brief puts the value of early childhood education in the context of state funding for such programs. The report uses Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman’s figure of $7.30 generated for every dollar spent on early education as a jumping off point, and concludes that short-sightedness could add up to a long-term economic loss for the state of $10 billion.

At the micro level, programs that engage preschoolers are life-changing. Recent scientific research has proven that during the first three years of a child’s life, essential brain and neural development occurs. Without the leg up of pre-K learning, children can begin kindergarten already lagging behind their peers. This can have a lasting effect throughout school years and even into adult life.

“We are thrilled with the progress the children in our classrooms have made in such a short period of time,” says teacher Alana Lokites. “We’ve tried to plan activities to keep the children interested and excited about learning! Each and every one of our students has made progress, identifying more letters and sounds throughout the Jumpstart Program!”

At Liberty Bank Foundation, our fondest wish is that all children in this program transfer the excitement of this summer’s experiences to their school-years to come.