Thrive By Five fosters highly functioning countywide collaboration. We engage a wide-reaching network that proactively connects families and caregivers with the county’s many available resources.
BY YOLANDA GOODLOE, Staff Writer
PINELLAS COUNTY — Many parents desire to give their children the best in life. They want to provide opportunities for their kids that they did not have, and giving them access to high-quality education is the best tool to do that.
Known as the “father of American education,” Horace Mann once said, “Education, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” You’ll find little else to help your children succeed in life than a solid educational foundation.
Pinellas County is full of untapped resources, but far too often we see our children struggle and continue to do so. According to the 2021 Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener, an assessment children take within 30 days of entering kindergarten, only 60 percent of the children in Pinellas showed readiness for kindergarten.
At such a young age, already 40 percent of the children in our community are behind. If drastic measures are not taken, they will continue on this downward trajectory for the rest of their lives. This does not bode well for our county’s and community’s future.
Knowing that over 80 percent of our brain development occurs between the time we’re born and when we start kindergarten, Thrive By Five put together an early childhood system that supports our children sooner rather than later.
Dr. Bilan Joseph, an educator with 15 years of experience within the public, private, and charter school sectors, also saw the challenges our youth face that set them up for failure at the beginning of their lives and joined forces with Thrive By Five as the director of the organization.
Thrive By Five is an action-oriented organization focused on building an early childhood system that is equitable, accountable, and responsive. They work with diverse partners throughout the community and across the country to ensure all children in Pinellas County are ready for kindergarten. Their goal is for 90 percent of all Pinellas children to enter kindergarten “ready” by 2026.
Challenges preschoolers now face
The times have changed since many of us were last in school. So much so that many of us will find the reports from recent educational studies alarming. When our children are supposed to be learning, developing, and growing, they fall victim to a system set up against them.
A 2005 report on a random sampling of 4,500 state-funded pre-k classrooms in 40 states revealed that 3 and 4-year-olds were expelled from preschool programs over three times as much as students in K-12. Of those removed from school, 4-year-olds were expelled at a higher rate than 3-year-olds; boys were over four times as likely as girls, Black children were expelled about twice as often as Latino and white youngsters, and over five times as often as Asian-American children.
According to these findings, your children are more likely to get kicked out of a preschool program than in any other grade for such infractions as disruption and defiance, which we all know are common amongst children at this age.
When you consider that kids who are suspended or expelled from school are more inclined to drop out eventually, and those who do drop out are prone to end up in the prison system, it makes the situation even more dire.
The “school-to-prison pipeline,” as education and civil rights groups have dubbed it, is equipping our children to end up with criminal records instead of college degrees. In fact, many schools discipline kids by pushing them directly into the juvenile justice system.
Looking at educational statistics beyond preschool programs, you’ll find that African-American students are also often located in school districts with less qualified teachers, teachers with lower salaries, and novice teachers. According to the Office for Civil Rights, 1.6 million students attend a school with sworn law enforcement officers but not a school counselor.
Sadder still, schools with 90 percent or more minority students spend $733 less per student per year than schools with 90 percent or more white students.
Not only are our children being punished for being children, but they are also being taught in schools ill-equipped to prepare them for educational opportunities but fully equipped to send them to prison.
It’s heartbreaking because our children don’t deserve this. They deserve an education that will allow them to thrive and the best we can give them.
Preschool teaches children how to be learners
When children enter school, they have unique needs. Many are not prepared for the social, emotional, and academic rigor expected and required for success in school and life.
Preschool programs prepare children by helping them develop a drive and a love for learning that will motivate them to pursue their education goals. They learn how to strengthen their social and emotional development in an environment designed for them to explore, gain a sense of self, play with peers, and build self-confidence.
A large volume of research and evidence shows that young children benefit from being in high-quality early childhood settings. Many of these benefits are not just for the child alone or even their family. These benefits also affect our community as a whole. Access to quality care in the early years of life, for example, reduces juvenile arrests and future crime victimization.
Why is preschool important for growth and development?
A child’s brain doubles in size by the time they are one. By age three, their brain has reached 80 percent of its adult volume. Their brain produces double the neural connections at this age, faster than any other time of their life. Every interaction during this period influences their growth and development.
When children take part in quality early learning opportunities, they enjoy long-lasting positive effects, such as better intellectual and social/emotional performance, gross and fine motor skills (movement of the large and small muscles in the body), problem-solving, listening skills, visual perceptual skills, social skills (how to compromise and be respectful), independence and so much more.
These lessons lead to improved learning, reduced need for special education services, higher levels of academic achievement throughout life, lower rates of incarceration and need for welfare support in adulthood, and higher lifelong wealth.
Support Thrive By Five on your terms
If you are as concerned about your children and the future of our community, there are many ways to support the mission of Thrive By Five, which is to build an early childhood system that is equitable, accountable, and responsive.
Your company could “adopt” an early education center and provide resources and materials directly to a specific facility. You could make a financial donation to Thrive By Five, supporting young children and their families, providing resources and boosters for early childhood service providers, facilitating family-friendly workplaces, and advocating for the county’s youngest in various other capacities.
Another way you could join hands with Thrive By Five is to reach out to your elected officials. It is only by making our voices heard that we can impact legislation that supports our children.
To make this easier for people interested in helping to advocate for our children, Thrive By Five has put together starter scripts and tips for emails and phone calls you can use to let your elected officials know that early childhood care must be a priority — and why.
There are opportunities for you to volunteer to help Thrive By Five achieve its goal of getting 90 percent of the children in our community ready for kindergarten. You could help families and caregivers find and register for programs and services in Pinellas that will help with the timely development of their children. Also, inform your friends and neighbors about early childhood priorities, or join one of the four project teams that help inform decisions and execute action items that translate into real change.
Because “it takes a village to raise a child,” let us join together and support Thrive By Five’s mission to equip our children for a better tomorrow.
For more information, visit tb5p.org.
About Dr. Bilan Joseph
Bilan Joseph earned her doctorate in education with a specialization in reading and literacy. Besides her 15 years of experience teaching in our public schools, she serves as an adjunct professor for Liberty University’s online School of Education, where she teaches graduate-level courses to other aspiring reading specialists. She also served as a board member for Bees Learning, a non-profit literacy program.
Currently working with The Woodson Museum African American Museum of Florida to co-facilitate community conversations about the New York Time’s 1619 Project, Joseph is also a member of the research and education committees for St. Petersburg’s Community Remembrance Project, a grassroots coalition working to install a marker, bearing witness to the horrors of lynching within our community.
Joseph is very much committed to giving back to the community and working to strengthen it for the future. Consequently, when she saw how many young children from low-income and underserved communities lack access to support and resources that will help them develop skills to maximize their abilities, she knew she had to do something.