Partner Spotlight: North Carolina Early Education Coalition
By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing & Communications
The North Carolina Early Education Coalition (NCEEC) works to ensure that all children have access to high-quality early care and learning experiences. Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready) has partnered with the Coalition on the Think Babies NC Alliance. Together we are focused on N.C.’s youngest children – prenatal to age three. As part of the Leadership Team, Ready Ready joins other public and private early childhood organizations on this statewide initiative.
“Ready Ready’s involvement on our leadership team is a testament to how focused the organization has been on infants and toddlers from the beginning,” said Coalition’s Senior Campaign Director Michele Rivest. “At the Coalition, we’ve always supported a whole child development approach, and infusing that model into other ways of thinking helps us lift up babies and families at the same time as we focus on early childhood.”
Rivest said the increased focus on infants and toddlers, especially in North Carolina, has positively affected partnerships and networks and allowed the Alliance to examine its work and progress through an equity lens.
Formed in 1990, the Coalition is a statewide advocacy group with membership including statewide organizations, regional and local child care agencies, child care providers, and individuals committed to improving the quality of child care and early education in North Carolina. Rivest’s work is focused on policy for the Coalition and Think Babies NC, leading the lobbying team and developing relationships with policymakers.
“I work with our partners and allies to support young children’s healthy development and early learning, particularly from a policy perspective,” said Rivest. “We look at state law, state budget, rules, and regulations, as well as a national policy to advance and support young children and families in North Carolina.”
As with many systems in North Carolina and other states, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the foundational weakness in our child care system, Rivest said. “Parents have primarily financed child care by paying the costs, which is extremely expensive – approximately $10,000 a year. That’s more than a year’s tuition at a public university in North Carolina. That’s beyond the reach of so many families. Then with COVID, families stopped being able to go to work and use child care.”
As research has shown, early learning experiences have a lifelong impact. A stable, secure relationship with a caring adult is a critical factor in young children’s development.
“The key to whether we have a stable and successful early childhood system depends on the early childhood workforce,” Rivest said. “Young children having these supportive environments, building relationships with teachers who are building relationships with their families is sort of a surround-sound approach to getting young children off to a good and healthy start.”
According to the Coalition, many children and families don’t have the resources or opportunities to meet these needs, particularly families of color or families with low incomes. These challenges and risk factors expose babies to stress and trauma that negatively impact their healthy development.
“The opportunity we see from COVID in North Carolina and nationally is that state policymakers are saying child care is essential,” Rivest said. “Despite these devastating circumstances, we are in a position to push for really robust high-quality early care and education. Issues like paid family leave are gaining traction in North Carolina and around the country.”
Describing herself as an “eternal optimist,” Rivest commends the collaborative team approach of state and local organizations as part of the NC Early Education Coalition. “We all come to this work from different roles in the field of early childhood education. But we’re all committed to making sure young children and families get off to a healthy start,“ she said. “We’re starting to see these supports for families and infants and toddlers across North Carolina that give me a lot of hope about how we’re going in the right direction.”