Strengthening Early Childhood Education and Childcare Resources

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Sep 29, 2020
by Mira Merchant
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Strengthening Early Childhood Education and Childcare Resources

Through her work with NEXT Memphis, Young Cultural Innovator Chloe Hakim-Moore aims to close opportunity gaps in early childhood education and childcare in Memphis Chloe Hakim-Moore at Salzburg Global Seminar in 2019

Early childhood education – generally described as the teaching of children from birth to age eight – is a crucial part of child development. However, it is an area of education that is, unfortunately, often overlooked.

The upper bound of early childhood education corresponds roughly with the third grade in the U.S. schooling system, the year where children switch from learning how to read to using reading to learn, the primary method of education in Western societies.

Children who can make that switch in third grade are on track to keep up with increasingly complex learning. Their peers who are unable to make that switch, however, often fall behind and face difficulties catching up. More than an educational predictor, the ability to make that switch is also one of the biggest predictors across the education system for exposure to adult poverty.

In a city like Memphis, Tennessee, where approximately one in five residents experience poverty, developing and maintaining an effective educational infrastructure is crucial. Salzburg Global Fellow Chloe Hakim-Moore hopes to further this through her work.

Hakim-Moore is the founder and director of NEXT Memphis, an initiative of Porter-Leath that provides high-quality education, childcare, and health services for children. According to its website, the initiative is "a shared service program model that helps independent childcare providers reduce costs and improve outcomes so that they can direct more of their attention and resources to the classroom and families."

NEXT Memphis works to help both children and families. For families, this means helping provide adequate childcare to allow parents the freedom to pursue careers and education. Issues such as high cost and limited availability and hours unfortunately place many parents in the position of having to choose between career and childcare. A report found that, in 2016 alone, an estimated 2 million parents made career sacrifices due to problems with child care. For children, this means helping provide quality educational programming that will hopefully set them on the right educational track.

Hakim-Moore says, "In the span of human development… 90 percent of our brains form by age six… And so for children who have nurturing and safe environments, they develop… a really complex and elastic infrastructure that helps them take on the world as they develop. And for children who are deprived of certain things or [who have] experienced something that might be traumatic, you can imagine [it] like a building with less scaffolding."

Initiatives like these are especially important in cities like Memphis, where the child poverty rate is around 35 percent. Early childhood education and childcare programming are more than just educating the next generation; as Hakim-Moore says, "It’s an anti-poverty strategy that also goes along the lines of bringing more resources into communities of color. So it’s also an anti-racist strategy. We really focus on [creating] more equitable systems of opportunity for all residents, especially the ones who have, for identity reasons or geographic reasons, been chronically disenfranchised or overlooked.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for many businesses and organizations to continue regular operations, and childcare providers are no exception. According to a recent survey conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the biggest threat to childcare providers is lack of funding. Without “serious and significant” federal support to childcare programs, 40 percent of them will close within 12 months.

Hakim-Moore describes the thought of massive closures as “unnerving.” She says, “When you start to see the supply shrink, the people who have more resources will be the ones who can maintain access, better than folks who do not have the same level of resources… And in so many ways, that is tied to historic policies that are inequitable, [and] systems that were created to intentionally disenfranchise people.”

Despite the challenges she faces, Hakim-Moore says her motivation comes from a simple idea: that her work has rarely, if ever, been about her. She says, “I grew up in situations that showed me very starkly the inequities in our societal systems… When I started going to work, my goal was, ‘How do I make systems let people breathe just a bit better?’”

A participant of the Young Cultural Innovators Forum, Hakim-Moore attended the Salzburg Global program Cultural Innovation, Leadership and Collaboration: A Global Platform in October 2019, as part of 50 cultural innovators and creative practitioners.

She describes the experience as transformative and eye-opening, saying, “I used to think my artistic side and my entrepreneurial side needed to be distanced. What [Salzburg] showed me was that actually, they’re one and the same. The reason that I think I’ve found so much success as an entrepreneur are the things that also make me a creative…Those things to me… don’t need to inhabit separate rooms anymore. And I think that leaning into them actually makes me a better leader. It makes me a better manager. It makes me a better… person.”

In the future, Hakim-Moore hopes to continue working on equity initiatives in Memphis, which reach far beyond early childhood education. Access to health care, housing, transportation, and food is also critical. In her own words, she describes herself as being on a mission to uplift human dignity, saying, “It really is about how do we create experiences that allow people to enjoy this very short life that we are given.”