Leaders focus on kids: 2 residents going to conference about early learning

January 31, 2019

Two Schuyler residents are headed to the Sunshine State, but it’s in an effort to help the community.

Jackie Farrell and Claudia Lanuza were recently invited to the National League of Cities Conference this March in Orlando, Florida. The two from Schuyler, along with representatives from fellow Nebraska communities Gothenburg, Grand Island, Norfolk, Red Cloud and Wood River, will participate. These communities in Nebraska are part of a national effort to build an Early Learning Nation that prioritizes programs and policies to improve outcomes for young children. The Nebraska Children and Families Foundation will work with the National League of Cities’ as part of the City Leadership for Building an Early Learning Nation initiative.

“We are very excited and feel fortunate that NLC looked at the unusual scenario of Nebraska’s five communities to participate together as one unit,” said Farrell, who is economic development coordinator for Schuyler Community Development and executive director of the Schuyler Area Chamber of Commerce. “Children are our future leadership and workforce. I feel it’s important for them to have opportunities … I want to continue to see our community grow and thrive and helping our next generation be successful is a great way to do that and being a part of NLC is one way we are going to try to put those pieces into place.”

Lanuza said she also was looking forward to attending the conference.

“I’m very excited to be part of this opportunity, and look forward to where this leads our community,” said Lanuza, who is the executive assistant at CHI Health Schuyler and a Schuyler Economic Development board member. “I don’t know where to begin. As a parent, a professional and as a community member – I think about what I am doing now that will make an impact in our community, in both short and long terms. Understanding the importance that quality Early Childhood has – knowing that it is key in contributing to the attraction and retention of families in Schuyler.”

Schuyler and the mentioned communities were already working with the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation through its “Communities for Kids” initiative. Schuyler leaders are currently working with Community for Kids on conducting a feasibility study for an early childhood development center.

In 2018, there were 715 children under the age of 6 in the local community. Six-hundred eighty-nine of those children had all available parents working, according to provided information. In Schuyler, between licensed in-home providers, one center-based provider, Head Start/Early Head Start, Pre-School and Sixpence there are room for 281 children in licensed care of some kind. That means that 408 children under the age of 6 are not enrolled in private or public early childhood development or preschool programs, according to Farrell.

“Communities for Kids is helping us explore the opportunity of expanding services in Schuyler to help close that gap,” Farrell said.

Nonprofit Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, which aims to support children, young adults and families at risk with the overall goal of giving the state’s most vulnerable kids what they need to reach their full potential, submitted the application on behalf of all the participating communities.

“They approached some of the communities they have been working with to see if we were interested in pursuing this possible opportunity,” Farrell said, adding the National League of Cities typically works with much larger communities. “I provided them with some specific statistics and demographics from the Schuyler area for the application.”

The Nebraska Children and Families Foundation’s Communities for Kids was chosen for its commitment to working with local leaders in Nebraska to prioritize early learning and the well-being of children. The Foundation will use NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF Institute) Early Learning Communities Action Guide and Progress Rating Tool with local Nebraska leaders to assess their progress and continue to develop action plans to move forward. This initiative also includes in-person and virtual opportunities for learning from peer cities and national experts.

Marti McFadden Beard, associate vice president with Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, through the Communities for Kids initiative, stated that the organization is grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Early Learning Community.

“Nebraska ranks near the top in the list of states with a high percentage of parents in the work force,” she said, in a provided statement. “Available quality care is critically important to our state’s work force and community vitality efforts.”

As part of a national effort to build an Early Learning Nation that prioritizes programs and policies to improve outcomes for young children, the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation will work with the NLC as part of the “City Leadership for Building an Early Learning Nation” initiative. Those attending the conference will learn more about NLC, how communities can participate and the process.

“Good health, nutrition, cognitive and social development – all of these biological and environmental factors that affect brain development and behavior – are crucial to every child’s development, and knowing that all of this plays in to that child’s future potential,” Lanuza said. “We know our children are our future – and we also know that early childhood development is not a cost, it is an investment. We have to take a more holistic approach about raising healthy children – incorporating health, nutrition and education so that we can see help them reach their full potential.

“Schuyler is one of the few growing communities in Nebraska – we need to embrace that and maximize the opportunities that come with that.”

Farrell said she is looking forward to networking with people from other communities across the U.S. that have similar challenges as Schuyler and brainstorming ways to try and solve them. Focusing on kids ultimately makes the most sense if Schuyler is going to prosper for decades to come, she noted.

“Children are our future. “They will lead our community, our businesses, our city government,” she said. “(We want) to give our rural community a fighting chance in our ever-changing world, we need to give our families and children opportunities and focus our attention on what we can offer and provide locally which then creates positives for families, schools and economic development.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of the Schuyler Sun. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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