Kids need direction early

Published 2:04 am Wednesday, October 15, 2008

As a district judge, I see every day the problems and concerns about crime in our community. But as a board member of the Alabama Partnership for Children, I have also learned ways we can begin to reduce the number of young people who drop out of school and all too often enter the criminal justice system.

By the time a young person gets to my court or is incarcerated, it is sometimes too late to effectively turn a life around. Studies have shown that the opportunities for changing a young life come much earlier — during the first five years of a child’s life. In other words, the child’s foundation for future success or failure is critically dependent upon the first five years of that child’s life. The Alabama Partnership for Children focuses on working to ensure a “smart start” for every Alabama child during those all important years, from birth to 5 years old.

The national initiative, “Fight Crime, Invest in Kids” reports that in Alabama four in 10 students fail to graduate from high school, and that these dropouts are three-and-a-half times more likely than graduates to be arrested and more than eight times more likely to be incarcerated.

They will also earn less, pay fewer taxes, and are more likely to collect welfare — making this an important economic issue also. In fact, when students drop out of school, almost every door to a good future closes. There are many programs intended to improve graduation rates, but the most tested and widely adopted school reform shown to greatly increase graduation rates is high quality preschool programs. Two long-term evaluations show that high quality preschool increases high school graduation rates by as much as 44 percent.

In Covington County, we have 15 child care and Head Start programs, including the child development center at LBW Community College. Two of these programs are also First Class Pre-K sites, the nationally recognized state Pre-K program. Another Pre-K site is also offered at Red Level High School.

The state Pre-K program is only one of two in the country that ranks a perfect “10” in quality standards, such as having degreed teachers with specialized training in early childhood. This is important, because just putting young children in programs does not bring the improved results — programs must be high quality.

The Alabama Partnership for Children has joined others to form the Alabama School Readiness Alliance to bring attention and resources to the need to expand high quality preschool so that it is available to every 4-year old whose parents want it. And, the Alabama Partnership for Children also provides a scholarship program to support early childhood teachers in getting their college degrees — necessary if we want to expand the number of high quality programs in our communities.

We should all be concerned about the economic and social costs that result from the trend of more and more young people entering prison, rather than entering college. And, we also have an opportunity to voice our concerns and to advocate for a proven way to reverse this trend. I encourage you to learn more at And, for more information on the Alabama Partnership for Children and the Alabama School Readiness Alliance and how you can help make a difference in Alabama, call 1-866-711-4025 (for Zero to Five).

Frank “Trippy” McGuire is district judge of Covington County and board chairman of the Alabama Partnership for Children.