Drive a car, learn to read 

They make our world bright and give us hope for the future. But who is responsible to assure their world is bright and safe?

Thank you to the Oklahoma Legislature for funding a high-quality program for all 4-year-olds whose parents choose to give their children the opportunity to attend public school. As a result, Oklahoma has ranked first in the nation for the past eight years in access to preschool programs.

According to the 2011 State Report on Oklahoma Early Childhood Programs, 98 percent of school districts currently offer voluntary pre-K programs through the public schools, and the parents of 75 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds have chosen to take advantage of early learning.

Additional thanks goes to the highly qualified teachers who provide the best learning environment possible with state funds. Through their excellent teaching, children are having an opportunity to enhance their total well-being — intellectual development, social skills, physical fitness and communication skills — to become tomorrow’s leaders and exemplary citizens.

Communication is a basic life skill and the beginning of literacy. Successful communication skills are enhanced by being around other children who are guided by a certified teacher and other appropriate adults.

Oklahoma teachers have an enormous task to ensure children meet the state’s standards in reading and communication.

The pre-K public school program is one of the best opportunities for professional teachers to partner with parents, which is essential for children’s future success.

The business community also has an important stake in helping students pass the reading test. An educated workforce is critical in the skill-based economy of the 21st century.

A statewide initiative called OKCEO (Oklahoma Champions for Early Opportunities) formed in 2010 to educate business leaders about the important link between early learning (birth to age 5) and a strong economy — and the socioeconomic consequences if kids are not reading by the third grade. In California, for example, officials determine the number of prison beds the state eventually will need based on the number of kids who can’t read by the end of third grade.

I’d like to challenge a specific business group to support young readers: Every automobile dealership in Oklahoma could provide an age-appropriate book to each third-grade child and under when their family members purchase a car. Perhaps Oklahoma Gazette readers could encourage other businesses to do something similar.

This simple gift would give children an early start toward passing the third-grade reading test, as well as the eighth-grade reading test required to be eligible for an Oklahoma driver’s license, so they can purchase and drive a car. Success for all!

Paul is former assistant superintendent of professional services for the state Department of Education. She is a member of OKCEO and a published author of 35 books for children.

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Ramona Paul

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