Nearly 3,000 early childhood education professionals began convening in Mobile Thursday morning for the annual Alabama Early Childhood Education Conference, with Governor Kay Ivey kicking off two days of training sessions at the Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center.

Speaking to the assembled teachers, administrators and providers from Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program, First Teacher Home Visiting program, participants in the state’s P-3 leadership program and other state initiatives serving children and their families from birth through the third grade, Ivey reaffirmed her staunch support for this initial stage of education, while outlining how it fits into her comprehensive education plan.

Ivey began her remarks by thanking and praising Department of Early Childhood Education Secretary Jeana Ross “for the incredible leadership” she provides to the department and the people Alabama.

“Your efforts and the hard work of our early childhood professionals here today are why Alabama is successful in providing students a strong start to their learning journeys,” the governor said.

Looking around at the group of education professionals in the crowd, Ivey remarked that “Alabama’s children are in great hands.”

She transitioned into speaking on the tremendous responsibility early childhood educators have.

“You are launching Alabama’s youngest citizens into their futures, which in turn, means that you are securing the future of our state,” Ivey remarked.

She continued, “With every beginning, lies the time for opportunity, and it is during that time, we are given our greatest chance for growth.”

After calling early childhood education “a ticket to success,” she ticked off some of the conclusions that research has shown regarding child development before age five, echoing her Early Childhood Education Leadership Forum presentation from the fall.

“Ensuring our students have a seamless learning journey is at the forefront of my vision for Alabama,” Ivey added. “As a former educator, I am very proud to say that I have devoted much of my time as governor focusing on education.”

She referred to her “Strong Start, Strong Finish” education initiative, explaining that, “A productive educational journey must begin with a strong foundation.”

The governor advised, “And equipping our students with the proper skills and education to fill high-demands jobs will be essential to ensure their strong finish. All three phases of Strong Start, Strong Finish are important to prepare our students to enter the workforce, but this morning our focus is on the first phase: Pre Through Three.”

Ivey then launched into praise of Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program. An exciting new study released last month concluded that students who participate in this program are more likely to be proficient in math and reading. Researchers also found that their work indicated “no evidence of fade out of the benefits of First Class Pre-K over time.”

“For 12 consecutive years, Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program has been recognized for being the highest quality Pre-K in the nation. In fact, our First Class Pre-K officially broke the 1,000 classroom mark this school year,” Ivey lauded.

She added, “Clearly, our students are making significant gains through our high-quality pre-K program, however, now our challenge is to continue building on that success. I assure you that the Ivey Administration is rising to that challenge.”

Ivey reaffirmed her commitment to education funding, also outlining some of the other programs in the works.

“A child’s education does not begin and end in Pre-K. The standard of excellence we have in our First Class Pre-K program is focused on all areas of early childhood education,” Ivey said. “Currently, only 35 percent of Alabama’s third graders are proficient, grade-level readers. Putting a greater emphasis on those early years will help solve this problem and help our students reach this important milestone.”

“To ensure that all of our state’s third graders are proficient readers by 2022, I created the Alabama Grade-Level Reading Campaign. From encouraging our parents to be good first teachers to reducing the effects poverty has on our students’ health and learning outcomes, the Grade-Level Reading Campaign will help more of Alabama’s children achieve success. And just as they continue to build on their success, so must we,” the governor outlined.

As the legislative organizational session and Ivey’s inauguration quickly approaches, the governor emphasized that “our efforts in early childhood education are putting us in position to be the model of the nation.”

“Since day one, I have made education a top priority of mine, and that will not change moving forward,” Ivey emphasized. “I will continue to champion for you, for early childhood education and for all students across Alabama!”

The Alabama Early Childhood Education Conference is one of the largest early childhood gatherings in the nation. Each year, this conference features numerous national speakers, authors, and entertainers. Sessions seek to prepare attendees with new, age-appropriate, child-focused teaching strategies to support children and their families. The conference is part of the 30-plus required hours of professional development that Yellowhammer State early childhood professionals receive each year.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News.

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