OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — From the moment a child is born, they are learning through observing, playing and interacting.
Josh Gillman, Chief Operating Officer at Kids Can Community Center, says "The majority of brain development happens in the years 0 to 5."
A study released by Council for a Strong America showed that less than 15% of at-risk children under the age of 3 in Nebraska have access to high quality early childhood programs.
About 40% (61,000) children under the age of 5 in Nebraska are at-risk of failing school, and those children live at or below the federal poverty level ($35,405 or less). At or before Kindergarten entry, children from these disadvantaged families can already be behind their peers in skills development.
Gillman says, "If a student is building quality relationships at an early age and engaging in a positive way with learning, that will stick with them through early education, middle education, higher education, which is just less likely for kids to disengage and drop out, which have a whole host of negative impacts for any community."
Those negative impacts include children committing crimes at an early age and potentially ending up behind bars.
What creates the gap in quality early learning is the price tag, which many underprivileged families can't afford.
Gillman says some care facilities don't have access to quality learning backed by research and curriculum proven to work. That's what creates the divide in quality education.
To bridge the divide, the study points to higher parent involvement.
"Childcare centers should be partnering with parents, providing them information on ways they can extend learning into the home, and into the world, in the grocery store or in a car ride, or any sort of opportunity they have," says Gillman.
The study says parent engagement can set a child up for success both in and out of the classroom.
Nebraska is already taking steps to bring effective education to all classrooms with their Step Up to Quality Program.
Gillman says "Centers are able to enroll and get that coaching and support from the state to really ensure there is quality."
The Kids Can Community Center is one of many care centers around Nebraska that recognize early childhood development risks, and work towards future success for their children.