Education professionals and community leaders came together as part of a meeting on early childhood care and education on Wednesday morning.

Representatives from Central Community College, the Grand Island Public Library, Grand Island Public Schools, Grow Grand Island and local business people attended the meeting at Central Community College–Grand Island. Earlier this year, Grand Island was named one of six Nebraska communities that will work with the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education and Families, and the Nebraska Foundation for Children and Families on an “elite cohort” to address issues of early childhood care, education and policy in each of these six communities.

Wood River, Gothenburg, Norfolk, Red Cloud and Schuyler are also part of the cohort.

Nancy Lim, program manager for early childhood success in the Institute for Youth, Education and Families at the National League of Cities, said the six Nebraska communities are six of just 21 communities across the country that are part of the NLC’s initiative for early learning.

Celine Swan, youth and family services librarian, said she and Barbara Beck early childhood instructor at CCC, are the Grand Island’s representatives for the NLC cohort.

“We have got to go to some really wonderful training,” Swan said. “On Monday and Tuesday, we were able to go to the Thriving Children and Families Conference in Kearney. We have got to work with Nancy Lim, get to know her and do wonderful web calls with her.”

Lim said she and the Institute for Youth, Education and Families meet with each of the six cities once every two months.

“We sit and talk about the things that we are doing, sharing and building really strong peer networks and relationships across Nebraska,” she said.

Lim said just because one thing works for one community does not mean it will work for another, so early childhood action plans need to be individualized for each community and its needs. She said that the six Nebraska cities working with the Institute can share ideas with, and learn from, each other to see what can make their cities better.

Beck said early childhood care and education is a community issue that “needs to be solved by the people in the community.” She added communities across Nebraska and the United States “are in dire need” of quality child care.

“We are really looking for community involvement to help us with this issue, which is actually an economic development issue,” Beck said.

CCC President Matt Gotschall said five of the six communities the Institute is working with in Nebraska are in CCC’s service area, “so it makes sense for CCC to be a partner on this project.”

“CCC is committed to being part of the solution” for early childhood,” he said. “I am pleased with the ability to be involved in this project. It is a big issue for me professionally, but also personally. My wife and I were blessed with five daughters, so throughout our careers, we have had to juggle work and child care to make things happen when we did not have family nearby.”

Gotschall said this is now an issue with his own children as they have children of their own.

Lim said that in its 20 years of existence, NLC has learned it takes a partnership to make early childhood thrive in a community.

“It takes everybody all working together over a shared goal and vision for what their community looks like,” she said. “The important thing is that we are all living in the community. We all want our communities to succeed and we want our communities to thrive not just for us, but for all children and families.”

Lim said NLC identifies four key building blocks for early childhood learning success:

— Community leadership, commitment and public will.

— Neighborhoods where families can thrive.

— Quality services that work for all young children and their families.

— Policies that support and are responsive to families

“I am thriving if my children are thriving. I know I want economic opportunities, a safe and healthy home, and I want a neighborhood of supportive neighbors,” Lim said. “I also want to feel safe and that there is opportunity in my neighborhood. With policies that support and are responsive to families, we want to make sure we are responding to the times and the changing needs.”

Lim said early childhood is a workforce and economic development issue. She said $4.4 billion in wages is lost annually due to employee absenteeism, while another $28.9 billion in wages is by working families who do not have access to affordable child care and paid family and medical leave.

“This is one of the best return on investments we can make in our community,” Lim said. “It is not just an investment in tomorrow. We know that investing in strong early childhood and supporting families increases the number of children who are reaching their full potential. They are also less likely to be involved with the criminal justice system. It is a great investment.”

Grand Island Public Library Director Steve Fosselman said in working with the Institute for Youth, Education and Families, and Mayor Roger Steele, community leaders can work together on what Grand Island is known for in early childhood learning.

“My dream is that 20 years from now somebody will remember the city’s role, Grow Grand Island’s role, businesses’ role, education’s role and everybody’s role in this,” he said. I hope it will really stick.”

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