By Olivia Ritter
BU News Service
“Who in this room is an early child educator?” asked Al Race, the deputy director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, at the screening of “No Small Matter” — a film that delves into the idea that inadequate education is the root of troubled youth — at the Coolidge Corner Theatre Wednesday.
Over half the audience raised their hands.
Released in June, the documentary explores the amount of attention and priority early childhood education receives in America today and argues that the core problem is failing to understand how a child’s learning begins the moment they are born.
“Beginnings matter,” said Alfre Woodard, the narrator of “No Small Matter.”
The screening was followed by a panel featuring Al Race, as well as Lauren Birchfield Kennedy, the co-founder of Neighborhood Villages, an early childhood education advocacy organization and Samantha Aigner-Treworgy, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care. This event was part of the Panorama Series at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.
“No Small Matter” gave viewers an inside look at households where both parents worked full-time jobs, struggling to pay tuition for quality childcare. This leaves them balancing between caring for their child, paying for highly priced childcare and receiving an income.
“Adult-child interaction is what’s important,” Aigner-Treworgy said. She said children are most affected by the adults around them.
There is the added issue of finding “high quality” childcare. This means well-trained educators who are highly attuned to children’s needs and development. This is what Aigner-Treworgy described as the three Ts: “Take turns, tune in, talk more.”
“It is a very, very expensive program,” Kennedy said of early childhood education centers. Part of the reason, she said, is the necessary expense of professional development for educators.
Neighborhood Villages, a nonprofit based in Jamaica Plain, aims to give all parents affordable access to high quality early childhood education and advocates for childcare policy reforms.
“We want to turn early childhood education into village hubs making it easy as possible to access,” Kennedy said.
These problems are not new.
Lorraine Fine, a retired early childhood educator from Brookline, said she graduated from Tufts University 56 years ago, and nothing has changed.
“I’m appalled,” she said.
In the ‘70s, Fine said she attempted to aid working parents by creating a childcare center at the City University of New York for graduate students’ children.
“People who say ‘I’m a preschool teacher’ don’t say it proudly,” Fine said. “Call them brain builders, something with some panache.”
The Brookline Early Education Program, BEEP, is doing its part to provide high-quality childcare, as well as making it affordable for those who are working low-wage jobs. According to the BEEP website, there is a financial aid program that waives tuition fees for eligible families.
“Brain research is being developed fast, policies just haven’t caught up to it,” said Aigner-Treworgy. “We need to start investing in adults and programs around the children.”