Earlier this year, as the widespread impact of COVID-19 began to take root, those of us working in education were faced with the challenge of finding ways to support teachers and schools as they shifted to distance learning to ensure students in our state were not left out of the education equation. 

At Early Childhood Options, it is our mission to support our state’s youngest students. The education that happens in those early years sets the tone for how children learn for the rest of their lives.

That is not something to take lightly. Research has shown that the socioeconomic gap in cognitive learning is already established by the time a child is 3 years old. 

Lucinda Burns

When you compound that fact with the deepening inequity in our education system as a result of COVID-19 – along with the gaps that existed long before the pandemic – it has never been more clear that the status quo just won’t cut it anymore.

And while my experience has been in early childhood development, we know the challenges our education system faces impacts students of all ages.

The disruption to our normal school year has presented our state and country with a unique opportunity to reflect on how our education system can better serve all students.

In order to meet the needs of every student — whether 2, 10 or 18 years old — it’s essential to understand that no two students learn the exact same way.

By simple deduction, we should not presume that a one-size-fits-all curriculum will meet the same needs for different learners, particularly during this moment of disruption.

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We have an opportunity to foster a more complete, well-rounded learning experience by ensuring that we support the development of social, emotional, creative, cognitive and physical skills of students at every age. 

Focusing on this integrated, spectrum of skills represents a whole-learner approach to education. It recognizes the need to engage students in a way that meets them where they are on their learning journey, and challenges them to continue growing by tapping the core areas involved in learning.

In our current environment, this approach to education allows for both teachers and parents to think about the best way to foster learning in any setting, which will be necessary if distance learning continues into the fall. 

So much of this year has been filled with questions about how we move forward and adapt to this once-in-a-lifetime event.

I know for parents, teachers and caregivers it has been truly inspiring to see how resilient students have been throughout this pandemic. And with some form of distance learning likely to be a mainstay for the school year ahead, the evolution of our education system isn’t an if but a must

And we need champions beyond the education sector to help us create a system that supports all learners at all ages. From Denver to D.C., there is a lot more to be done to ensure that our students have the support and systems they need to continue learning.

Our state and federal government have immense abilities to affect these changes through funding mechanisms and investments in programs that are advancing whole-learner approaches and ensuring that children have the opportunities to thrive.

I applaud so many of the parents, teachers and caregivers on the front lines of this ever-changing education landscape, and I urge our elected officials to take the time to substantively understand these challenges and seek to support the critical reforms to support our learners — at every stage of their learning journey. 

Lucinda Burns has been working in early childhood education for over 20 years and is the Executive Director of Early Childhood Options.

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