State profiled in documentary about early childhood education

Jeana Ross education

Across the country educational institutions and governments have tried to ensure every student has an equal opportunity to education and success. Most have relied on reaching students K-12, but the State of Alabama decided to put an even greater emphasis on early childhood education, recognizing children have the most potential for growth from pre-K to third grade.

Last July the state launched a pilot program to help improve student success by aligning effective teaching strategies and improving collaboration among educators.

“A strong start in the early years of a child’s education ensures a strong finish in their later educational endeavors. Whether a student will find success in school and the workforce is traditionally evidenced in their performance by third grade,” said Gov. Kay Ivey.

Now, the state’s efforts are being featured in short-form documentary, “Starting at Zero: Reimagining Education in America,” which highlights the impact of early learning on future economic development in Alabama.

The film premiered during the National Forum on Education Policy hosted by the Education Commission of the States (ECS) in Washington, D.C. Jeana Ross, Secretary of Early Childhood Education, presented on early childhood alignment from pre-k through third grade.

“We know that investing in quality early learning impacts a child’s future far beyond the classroom,” said Governor Kay Ivey. “Alabama remains committed to ensuring the highest quality early learning experiences for our children, so that every child has access to the opportunities that prepare them for success in life.”

This is an introduction to an upcoming full-length documentary featuring Alabama and the nation’s highest quality state-funded pre-kindergarten program, produced by the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation for the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Filmed in December 2017 at locations throughout the state including First Class Pre-K classrooms at Satsuma City Schools in Mobile County, F.S. Ervin Elementary in Wilcox County, Madison City Pre-K Center in Madison County, and the RSA Head Start in Montgomery, the film features interviews with Ivey, Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield, and businessman Jeff Coleman.

Every single one of the state’s 67 counties are served by First Class Pre-K, with more than 2,000 qualified pre-k teachers employed statewide and almost 20,000 students participating in First Class Pre-K and the new Pre-K – 3rd grade pilot program.

“We are proud and excited to share our state’s success story with the country,” said Ross. “Alabama has built a nationally-recognized program of equity and quality, and we are committed to supporting these efforts to provide a deeper understanding of the value of investing in early childhood education.”

Leading the nation

For the past twelve consecutive years, Alabama has led the nation in quality while continuing to expand access to the voluntary, state-funded pre-kindergarten program from fewer than 2 percent to almost 30 percent of eligible four-year-olds statewide. According to research conducted by the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, students who participate in First Class Pre-K are more likely to be proficient in reading and math at every grade level. First Class Pre-K will officially break the 1,000-classroom-mark in the upcoming 2018-2019 school year and will serve more than 18,864 four-year-olds.

Over the past 5 years, the Alabama Department of Early Childhood has overseen the largest expansion of the state’s voluntary First Class Pre-K program while maintaining the program’s nationally recognized quality standards.