If you ask a Southern Oregon resident why they've chosen to reside just north of the California border they tick off a host of reasons: the weather, definite seasons, the scenery, proximity to the coast and larger cities like Portland and San Francisco - all of which contribute to quality of life. What they list less frequently is quality education and, even rarer, affordable childcare.
Earlier this month, 24/7 Wall St. underscored those less desirable aspects of living in at least one Southern Oregon community when it listed Medford as the third worst community in the U.S. for raising kids. To compile its list the website considered each community's health, safety and education measures, all of which landed Medford in the lowest percentiles.
While local newscasts and USA Today picked up the story and ran with it, many Medford residents shook their heads, stunned, and wondered how 24/7 could have missed the obvious benefits to living in the Rogue Valley. But those of us who work in the nonprofit sector and especially in education, nodded. Those numbers related to preschool and graduation rates? We've been calling attention to those for years.
Research shows a direct correlation between attending preschool and graduating from high school. Kids who attend preschool are more likely to start kindergarten ready to learn - that is, able to follow direction, interact with peers, function in a learning environment. Kids who start kindergarten ready to learn are more likely to stay in school year after year and thus, graduate. Children who graduate are also less likely to engage in criminal activity and more likely to achieve a higher level of health. On the flip side, kids who begin formal schooling without crucial skills frequently fall behind and, once a child lags behind her peers, it's challenging to catch up. Once a child drops out, the likelihood of their turning to crime increases along with their health risks.
So, in an ideal world, all kids would have access to preschool. But preschool and childcare in Oregon are expensive. Studies vary but most rank the Beaver State in the top 5 to 10 most expensive when it comes to early childhood education. It may be counter-intuitive but, the fact that Medford is such a lovely place to live contributes to cost-prohibitive preschool. The higher the quality of life, the higher the cost of living. Add to that a higher quality of preschool, and you’re talking even more money The more services are regulated, the more they cost to deliver.
And that's precisely why Kid Time does what it does. Our unique business model consists of three pillars: the children’s museum, the Learning Loft preschool, and museum classes. Here’s how it works:
The Museum is open to the public through paid admission, memberships, and free and reduced cost scholarships. Families have access to 19 exhibit spaces in which to play, imagine, explore.
Here’s where the magic happens: Museum classes are available for free 7 days a week with admission to the museum. Classes like Sound Painting, Music Time, Super Hero Training, and Bilingual Family Craft Time pull directly from the Learning Loft curriculum and are even taught by Learning Loft teachers. That means, a family that can’t afford preschool, can visit Kid Time, attend those classes, and give their child what is essentially a preschool education – all for the cost of as little as $9 a month for a family of 4, or even less if they qualify for a scholarship.
The beauty of Kid Time’s class program is not only that it’s affordable but that parents benefit, as well. Our highly trained teachers and program leaders model not only skills for engaging with children at different ages but also strategies for making play time as beneficial as possible. Parents can then take those skills home where they can continue their child’s early learning.
The need is overwhelming. Ask any preschool in Medford if it’s accepting students and you’ll be directed to sign a waiting list. Until there are enough affordable preschool options to go around it’s our job as a community to make sure early learning activities are many and readily available. The more opportunities kids have to engage their young brains the less likely Medford will wind up back on the “Worst Cities” list.