2014 | Weekly Legislative Emails

Each week throughout the legislative session (barring weather cancellations), our CEO Rick Noble has sent an email to the Richland County delegation of the SC General Assembly.

Week of March 2, 2014

Even with one last blustery blast from Old Man Winter, Spring is defiantly pushing forth into the Midlands. Flocks of robins bobbing across yards ringed in daffodils, redbuds popping pink crowns on every corner, baseball season in full swing, all signs Spring is making its presence known. It is a time of renewal, hope, and self-reflection. People are planting gardens, or making some needed home improvements, knowing that some work now will pay off in the golden days of summer.

At First Steps we are thinking about renewal, too. Specifically, H. 3428, the legislation that renews our state’s commitment to school readiness through the First Steps to School Readiness agency. Since our enabling legislation, we have grown, learning our lessons along the way to helping children succeed. With a favorable report from the Education and Public Works Committee, the bill is on the calendar this week, and we need your support. I hope my weekly messages this session have given you a sense of the work that we are doing right here at home in Richland County and the impact it is having on children’s school readiness and early success.

The legislation, while allowing us to continue to work towards our goal of school readiness for all children, also puts in place some much needed improvements throughout the entire First Steps system, allowing for greater accountability and more efficient usage of resources. It also does a little “spring cleaning,” making some updates to language to more accurately reflect the nature of our work. It’s an opportunity for us to revisit our original purpose and to apply the knowledge we’ve learned over the 15 years since this journey began. We are thankful to all of the bill’s sponsors, but especially our own James Smith, Mia McLeod, Joe Neal, Jimmy Bales, Todd Rutherford and Beth Bernstein. Your faith in us inspires us to keep improving every year after year.

As both a long-time local partnership CEO and a newly installed trustee on the state First Steps board, I think I have a fair base of knowledge on First Steps throughout the state. I’m available to you as a resource should you have any questions(contact information below).


Read our 2012-13 annual report for more on how we improve school readiness in Richland County

Rick Noble, CEO
Richland County First Steps to School Readiness

Week of February 23, 2014
Let’s talk about child care. Independent operators, churches, state and national chains — in Richland County you see one on nearly every corner. There are more child care facilities in our state than there are gas stations. According to DSS Child Care Services Director Leigh Bolick, there is room for 17,857 children in licensed child care facilities in Richland County alone. The economic impact of the child care industry is huge. It is an important economic driver, employing approximately 15,000 people statewide and allowing parents to work outside the home, whose labors are generating $2.4 Billion annually.

For parents, children, and child care providers, high-quality, consistent care-giving relationships are critical — infants and toddlers often spend more of their waking hours in the care of a child care teacher than with their parents. This reality often creates anxiety for parents – sometimes it is hard to know for sure that children are getting the best care they can. The RCFS Excellence in Care and Early Learning(ExCEL) team works, through training, technical assistance, and mentoring, to strengthen the quality of child care in Richland County, giving peace of mind to parents, and making it possible for them to go to work secure in the knowledge that their children are well cared for and are gaining the skills they need to be ready for school.

On a rainy Friday morning, everything is abuzz at Trenholm Road United Methodist Preschool. Amid colorful murals that promote language development, there is activity around each corner. Babies taking turns finger painting at tiny little tables, older preschoolers struggling to master safety scissors, two-year-olds playing at centers that encourage creative thought; it is truly a great place to be a little kid. RCFS Director of Early Care and Education Marcia Bacon makes her rounds. She stops by to chat with the center director, picking up conversations that seem to have left off just a minute ago. She peeps in on the classrooms, greeting all the teachers by name, asking them questions about how the changes she’s suggested are working out. She’s on her way to see a teacher about questions she has related to the national accreditation for which they’ve applied.

Down the hall, TA Porsche Knight is in the two year old room. She has brought with her a teacher from a center on our Enhancement Team, a participant in our mentoring initiative. They are observing Miss Ebony’s classroom. Neat, orderly, happy. Miss Ebony communicates with the children almost constantly, encouraging them to use their words and transitioning from activity to activity smoothly. Later, Porsche and the teacher will talk about their visit, coming up with ideas for ways the teacher can use some of the best practices she’s seen in Miss Ebony’s room. They’ll make several of these visits throughout the year, getting together in between to talk about their journey to quality and how we can help.

We know that mentoring works. In the first 6 months of the program, those classrooms receiving technical assistance and mentoring improved at double the rate of those receiving technical assistance alone.

It is because of our state funded work on child care quality enhancement that we had the relationships in place with caregivers necessary to build the new mentoring initiative. United Way of the Midlands provided funding for 6 months to get the project started. They were so pleased with the result, they renewed the grant for 3 years, adding more money than our request to allow for additional RCFS staff training to help us focus on improving our quality of service, too.

Your continued support makes it possible for us to let more people see quality child care and believe that it makes a difference for our future.


More on our Mentoring Initiative
More on our Excellence in Care and Early Learning(ExCEL) team
More on accreditation by the National Association of Young Children (NAEYC)
More the tools we use to assess classroom quality (ITERS/ECERS)

Week of February 9, 2014

On a frigid Saturday morning recently about two dozen parents in North Columbia braved the cold to gather with their children in a church fellowship hall. It was early, but these families in our Early Head Start program were buzzing. Children’s librarians from Richland Library were on hand and there were rumors that a puppet show might happen later. Conversations bubbled over bagels and warm beverages. After a lively story time and sing-along, the kids toddled off to child care while the parents got down to business. The topic was literacy. They heard about the importance of helping children to develop language skills and were taught ways in which they can promote language. They learned songs that they could sing with their children, and they got to know each other better in the process, laughing over shared memories from their own childhoods. They loaded up on donated books for their children and themselves. They had a conversation with a social media expert about smart usage for families and how their online lives can impact their real lives. After reuniting with their children they shared a nutritious lunch and enjoyed that puppet show. Just another great Early Head Start parent meeting in the books.

The literacy researchers Hart and Risley reported on a 30 million word gap that occurs between the number of words that children in professional families hear versus those children in families on welfare. This gap often leads to poorer children being further behind in language development when they arrive at school. The gap is not insurmountable, though, and evidence-based programs offered through Richland County First Steps (like Early Head Start, Parents as Teachers, and Nurse Family Partnership) are helping parents close that gap, improving their own literacy and assisting their children in acquiring language.

Bringing Early Head Start to the 29203 area is just one of the ways that we have leveraged the investment you have made in us to magnify the impact it can have on young children’s lives, setting them on a path for success in school and life. Please, when you have a chance to communicate with your colleagues from around the state, use your words to tell them what a vital step up we provide to families to help them build stronger bonds and a brighter future.

More on Promoting Language Development in Young Children
Rick Noble, CEO
Richland County First Steps to School Readiness

Monday, February 3, 2014

One of the great joys of life for parents and grandparents is sitting with their children and grandchildren reading books. For those moments we can almost stop time, stepping away from life’s troubles into the warm embrace of story time. Whether it’s Dr. Seuss or nursery rhymes, Goodnight Moon or Clifford the Big Red Dog, sharing books brings us closer together. Books entertain, they teach, they inspire us to explore our world. Sharing books with children from birth, or sometimes even before, helps them to develop the critical language and literacy skills they need to be effective communicators and learners.

This Wednesday, February 5, at 11 AM, I will be one of hundreds of First Steps supporters from around the state expected to gather on the State House steps to show our commitment to improving school readiness for South Carolina’s children. Parents, teachers, business leaders, elected officials; we will come from all walks of life to stand together to call on our fellow citizens to join us in making an investment in our future, one that will pay dividends for generations to come. If you agree, please join us and show that you are on the same page with us in support of First Steps by wearing something red.

While early care and education and school readiness are issues we take very seriously, this gathering is also a time for fun. We will share some of the best read-along books for young children as chosen by South Carolina’s librarians. Will your favorite make the list? Come join us and find out.

Rick Noble, CEO
Richland County First Steps to School Readiness

Week of January 26, 2014

Young children are inherently nonpartisan. When they hear the word “party” they aren’t thinking of Republicans or Democrats; they just want to know if there will be ice cream with the cake. They may favor red or blue, but they are usually referring to Lego® blocks not voting blocs. So why is it that so many decisions impacting their well-being are made along party lines? It doesn’t matter to us which party holds the leadership in the Legislature or resides at the Governor’s Mansion, Richland County First Steps and our fellow county partnerships around the state will continue to maximize our resources by working cooperatively with others to improve outcomes for young children.

We stand in partnership with our fellow advocates from United Way, SC Children’s Trust, the Institute for Child Success and others in helping to develop and endorse South Carolina’s Early Childhood Common Agenda. Its basic tenets of accountability, support for strong care-giving relationships, and focused investment on what yields proven results are things that we think all of our elected officials should join us in endorsing. The agenda’s recommendations show how we can build a path out of poverty for many children, and by so doing allow the next generation to lead us into greater prosperity for our state.

Download South Carolina’s Early Childhood Common Agenda
More on the release of the report and the coalition who drafted it

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions about the Early Childhood Common Agenda. I’d love to talk about it with you.

Rick Noble, CEO
Richland County First Steps to School Readiness

Week of January 19, 2014

A recent story making the rounds of social media, news sites and tv shows tells of the brouhaha created when a couple brought their toddler to dinner at the ultra-exclusive and pricey Chicago restaurant Alinea. Thousands of words sympathizing with parents who had a situation where they suddenly found themselves without a sitter. Thousands more on discussing whether other diners have a right to be undisturbed as they enjoy their $200 per plate dinner (not including wine) that must be purchased like theater tickets, often months in advance. A quick search of “Alinea baby” yields more than 613,000 results. While it perhaps was a genuine dilemma for those diners whose enjoyment was directly affected that night, and does raise questions of etiquette when dining out, it hardly seems a situation worthy of the amount of attention it received, not in light of more pressing issues facing many families.

Where are all the articles and discussion about the number of children in this country who experience real hunger on a regular basis? The need is real and it is significant. From our annual report: there are 29,300 children under the age of 6 living in Richland County. 30% of them live in poverty. That’s higher than the national average. The national hunger fighting organization Share Our Strength reports that 16 million kids (1 out of 5) in the US live in homes where families struggle to put food on the table.

We know that education provides a clear way out of poverty for many families. That’s where Richland County First Steps comes in. We are working to make sure that all children in our community enter school healthy and ready to succeed through programs directed to young children, their families, and the child care environments in which they spend their time. We appreciate the investment the State of South Carolina has made in quality early care and education, and we are making the most of it: Last year we leveraged our state allocation to the tune of a 215% return. That’s 2 dollars from other sources for every $1 invested by South Carolina.

As you move forward into the legislative session, we thank you for your continued support of First Steps and for making sure that our children always have a place at the table.

As always, if I can be of assistance, please let me know.

Read our full annual report
More on the State of Childhood Hunger

Rick Noble, CEO
Richland County First Steps to School Readiness

Week of January 12, 2014

Just a quick note to say I’m looking forward to seeing, meeting, and working with you this session, particularly on issues of early care and education and school readiness.

As in every session, I know you will face some tough battles as you work to improve the lives of South Carolinians. Some you’ll win, some you won’t, but I’m confident that with each setback you may face, you’ll bounce back ready to take on the next challenge. Your upbringing gave you the skills and strengths you need to be resilient and carry on in the face of adversity. But can we say that for all of the children in Richland County?

In a recent post, our blog editor Sarah Conrad shared how many psychologists suggest that resilience, the ability to successfully navigate life’s challenges, can be one of the strongest contributing factors toward achieving our life goals. However, the number of stressful environmental factors we face in young life can hinder our ability to learn to be resilient. That’s where First Steps can help. By working with children and their parents through evidence-based programs like Early Head Start, Parents as Teachers and Nurse Family Partnership we can help children acquire the 7 “C”s of resilience: competence, confidence, connection,character, contribution, coping, and control.

More about fostering resilience in young children
More about Early Head Start in Richland County
More about Parents as Teachers in Richland County
More about Nurse Family Partnership in Richland County

Have a great week. As always, if I can be of assistance, please let me know.

Rick Noble, CEO
Richland County First Steps to School Readiness

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