We can’t continue to let kids fall through our schools’ cracks

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The school year is barely underway but one fact is undeniable: A frightening number of children arrived for school unprepared on Day 1.

There are students who have never been read to, have never been taught their ABCs, have never been encouraged. They arrive not knowing a circle from a square and worst of all, not knowing the importance of education.

Chances are, their parents years ago started the school year similarly behind the 8 ball. That’s one of the major drivers of the cycle of poverty.

Many parents care. They hope their children will have better lives than they did. And, they have the means and knowledge to help make that happen. Others want to help their children but don’t know how. They want to read to the kids but some days are too exhausted after working one, two, three jobs just to give their families the basics.

It’s not enough to feel sorry for these children, to urge their parents to do a better job. Certainly, we would encourage all parents to work with their children, or, if they are unable to, at least ask for help. There is help available in every school district, in every community.

But we fear if that is all we do, Mississippi will always be known as one of the leaders in poverty and illiteracy. Without our help, these children will continue to fall through the cracks. With less and less money to spend on education, class sizes are likely to grow. And those kids who started out a mile behind will quickly lose ground in crowded classrooms.

And don’t think this is none of your business. Children who grow into uneducated adults will put an enormous strain on society. They’ll fill our prisons, our welfare rolls. And, chances are, they’ll have children who could be trapped in that same cycle.

If you see your member of the Legislature, remind them you believe education is a sound investment, and ask them to work diligently to see a fair share of your tax money goes where you’d like it to go. To the classroom.

But don’t stop there.

It’s in all of our interests to lift these children up. Fortunately, Mississippi is helping. It has expanded its early childhood learning program. It is experimenting with a pilot online preschool through the Waterford Institute. It is taking advantage of other private programs, such as Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program.

There’s much evidence that such programs help send otherwise disadvantaged children more prepared to compete with and learn with their peers. We look forward to the day when all children have those opportunities available to them. Give these programs your support and help spread the word to those who need them.

Then look for ways to directly help as well.

Like the couple in Pascagoula, who gave up their lunch hours last year to tutor kids in neighboring Moss Point. The United Way offers a ways to connect with the children who need us the most. Ask around, there are opportunities everywhere.

And, finally, we ask you to be mindful of all the children as you leave for work. Leave a little early, take your time, put down the phone, pay attention. There will be children everywhere. We want them to arrive safely.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.