Gwinnett County leaders are preparing to launch a new effort aimed at improving access to early learning tools and strengthening literacy skills among young children, County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash announced Wednesday.
During her State of the County Address, Nash said Gwinnett County Public Schools and community partners, including the county’s libraries and parks and recreation system, have been working on developing a “Gwinnett Early Learning Strategy.” The effort will be named for Shirley Carver Miller, the widow of former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller and former Norcross businesswoman.
A written copy of Nash’s remarks indicated details of the strategy will be released soon, but she omitted that part as she delivered her speech.
“Key to the strategy is community awareness, support, and involvement,” Nash said. “Just as decades ago the entire Gwinnett community came together to create a world-class school system, so must we come together now in a relentless effort to improve early childhood readiness to learn. And county government intends to be part of this effort.”
In Nash’s eyes, the caliber of education available to the children of Gwinnett County impacts the county’s future in a variety of ways. That includes children who cannot read well by the end of third grade being at least four times more likely to drop out of high school, and be more likely to get arrested or have a child while still a teenager.
“This affects not only individuals and families, but the entire community,” Nash said. “If Gwinnett of the future is to be a place of extraordinary opportunity with bright economic prospects, with a climate that supports business formation (and) with a skilled workforce that delivers for both the public and private sectors, then, we must bend the trend on early childhood learning by assuring that kids get a strong start even before their early years of schooling.”
Nash talked extensively about education during her remarks, but the county’s government has no direct oversight on how Gwinnett County or City of Buford schools. There are separate school boards that deal with how students are educated in the county’s and Buford’s school systems.
Any influence county commissioners have on the education of Gwinnett’s children is limited to programs offered at facilities such as libraries and county-run parks and recreation facilities.
That’s exactly how Nash said she sees the county helping out with the early learning strategy.
“We’ll be doing things to support the overall community effort,” she said after her speech. “We already have a lot of programs that are focused on reading and learning for children so we’ll be looking at ways we can incorporate an emphasis on literacy and early childhood learning in the programs we already are doing.”
Nash highlighted summer camp and afternoon programs being used in partnership with the school system to promote early reading, and expanding a “Playing To Learn” program in the county’s parks system. Money was also included in Gwinnett County government’s 2020 budget to help the library system expand a focus on literacy.
Additionally, county employees will be trained on ways they can help support the early learning effort.
“I have come to believe strongly that early childhood learning, especially literacy, is the main leg up we can give our students and, through them, our entire community,” Nash said. “We must ensure that Gwinnett students leave the third grade ‘reading to learn’ versus still ‘learning to read.’ And the effort must touch children even before they enter kindergarten.”