The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Local Education

May 29, 2011

Early education, family 'critical' to graduation

Madison County lagging but taking steps to improve

In 2010 only 43 percent of local preschool-aged children entered kindergarten ready to learn to read. While that number may be up from 35 percent in 2001, Madison County CAPE Initiative officials say drastic improvement is still needed.

“Early-childhood education is a real issue in our community,” said Mary Lee Ewald, director of CAPE — the Community Alliance to Promote Education. Ewald said students are already behind the pace needed to eventually graduate if they wait until kindergarten or first grade to start learning.

“There is significant research that shows high school graduation rates can be significantly linked to third-grade reading scores,” she said. “And early-learning opportunities are necessary. The critical age for brain and language development is birth to 18 months. You can’t look at the graduation rate and say it all starts when these students enter kindergarten or first grade. They have to be prepared before that with experiences with their families.”

CAPE reaches out to the community by partnering with other organizations in several ways, including the hospitals’ prenatal education programming; a partnership with the public library that provides books to families of newborns; opportunities for families to get books by hosting “book parties”; and the Born Learning Connection — five interactive trails in Madison County parks that encourage family learning through activities.

“I’m not surprised that the graduation rate is that low,” Ewald said of Anderson schools’ statistics. “We started CAPE 10 years ago, and at that point only 45 percent were proficient readers at the end of third grade. Now we have gone up to 75 percent countywide. Hopefully, we will start to see those effects down the road.”

Contact Abbey Doyle, 640-4805,

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