Schenectady program touts early education as crime-fighting tool
SCHENECTADY Schenectady Police Chief Brian Kilcullen gave students at the Howe Early Childhood Education Center a dose of reality Thursday morning.
Reading “Police Officers on Patrol” to about 20 kids gathered around him on the floor, he paused at a point in the story where mounted patrol was mentioned.
“We don’t have horses,” Kilcullen said with a smile. “We have dogs though, but they’re too small to ride.”
The sit-down with the students was the culmination of a brief advocacy event on behalf of early education programs, like pre-kindergarten. Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney, Schenectady City School District Superintendent Larry Spring, Kilcullen and a few teachers and parents assembled for an event organized by the group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.
Carney said law enforcement officials promoted early education because it is a crime deterrent, based on numerous studies.
“We see the bad side,” he said of students who don’t receive the benefits early education programs.
A $25 million investment in full-day pre-K in the state budget was also praised by Carney.
Howe Principal Valarie Scott said this investment will benefit Schenectady students, but didn’t yet know how it would affect her 90 students.
The state currently spends about $384 million on part-day early education programs.
Students at Howe, Scott said, get breakfast, some physical activity and a rich curriculum.
“That leads them to be successful in their next year,” Scott said. “They’re reading and doing hands-on projects. … They’re building towards kindergarten.
“Twenty years ago you would have said they just play, but really it is the beginning of literacy skills now … and a little bit of basic math,” she added.
Early exposure to learning is very formative and has led to better results down the road, noted Kilcullen. Higher high school graduation rates, he said, correlate to lower crime rates.
Spring noted that early education helps put students on equal footing when they begin kindergarten, regardless of what they’re facing at home.
“There is no stronger way to keep [race and income] from predicting where students end up than early education,” he said.
Scott added that because children are so impressionable at this young age, a positive experience with police, like having the chief read to them, helps form a positive relationship with the police in the future.
The experience was also one Kilcullen relished.
“The other important thing about the pre-K program is that we get invited to come to things like this and interact with the children.”