Northam and Hailey

Virginia’s First Lady Pamela Northam meets Silvana Hailey, Tri-County Community Action Agency’s education and disability specialist, on Wednesday.

Virginia’s First Lady Pamela Northam visited two head start classes at Tri-County Community Action Agency on Wednesday gifting all the children with coins.

But before her visit with students, she met with Tri-County’s CEO Petrina Carter, its board members and employees and other community members who were on hand to share their concerns about early childhood education.

It was part of her listening session to learn how to “best empower” early childhood care providers and to speak about the state’s efforts to “provide more providers” throughout Virginia.

“Every child deserves a place,” Northam said.

In January, the First Lady announced the Virginia Department of Education, in partnership with the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation and the University of Virginia, received a nearly $10 million federal preschool development grant.

She also heads the children’s cabinet, which is dedicated to the education, health, safety and welfare of Virginia’s children and youth.

When applying for the federal grant, Northam said they had 2,000 children on a waiting list.

“We’re going to continue to increase access to quality,” she said adding that 40% of kindergarten students are not prepared, and 70% of 3 year olds do not have access to quality education in Virginia.

To help remedy that, $6 million of that $10 million preschool development grant will go to providers and $4 million to teachers and leaders in the classrooms.

However, Carter said the agency currently faces transportation challenges and often feels “left out of the stream” when the government talks about streamlining private and public partnerships.

Education and disability specialist Silvana Hailey said they had tried to work with the public school system before to form a single point of entry.

They wanted to establish a point where parents could enroll their children and then establish where the child would be served.

“It doesn’t matter who serves the child. We all work together,” said Hailey.

But, when they tried before, she said they did not have a lot of cooperation.

“After attempting to have several meetings, we had to just let it go,” said Hailey. “We felt it was so important to work together. We all have a common goal. We all want that school preparedness.”

Northam said she had seen other localities face that challenge as well but also added public school systems are becoming more accepting.

“They’re beginning to understand, but it’s been a struggle,” she said.

She has met with Virginia Association of School Superintendents and said Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane was hired because he was supportive of early childhood education.

“Elementary schools have really begun to see what benefits there are when you have a child who can go from one day being at head start and the next day go into kindergarten. If we put the investment on the front end, we’re going to benefit from the back,” said Northam.

Ashley Hodge reports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com

Ashley Hodge is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com