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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan shakes hands with Donald M. Wade, chairman of the Charles County Board of Education during a visit to C. Paul Barnhart Elementary School in Waldorf on Monday. Behind Duncan is U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer. Center is Barnhart Principal Kimberly Hairston.
It was business as usual for the 3-year-olds making turkey sandwiches, but students participating in the Judy Center programs at C. Paul Barnhart Elementary School Monday were the center of attention for local and state officials looking to expand services for young children.
There to discuss the importance of early childhood education, U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md., 5th), U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Maryland Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick took a tour of the center at Barnhart in Waldorf, one of three Judy centers in the county and one of 24 in the state.
Judy centers are early learning centers providing educational opportunities for pregnant mothers and children through kindergarten and their families, according to literature provided by Charles County Judy Center coordinator Lee Stalter.
The children in the classrooms didn't pay much attention to the many visitors observing Monday.
"And that is a good thing," Hoyer said. "They were very focused on what they were doing."
Students, instead of looking to see who was coming into their classrooms, were focused on the teacher who was explaining an activity on the school's Smart Board, a large electronic interactive white board.
In another class, two young students were drawing letters as the visitors walked around them. They didn't stray from the lesson.
Grasmick said after the tour that she is excited about the opportunities Judy centers such as the one at Barnhart have provided for Maryland. The centers help to ensure all children enter school ready to learn, according to Judy Center literature.
The centers are named after Judy Hoyer, the congressman's late wife and the former supervisor for early childhood education in Prince George's County. She was a strong believer in and acted on the idea of housing educational and community opportunities together in one place as Judy centers across the state now do.
The programs run year-round, and family services include health programs, literacy programs, youth development and job training.
Grasmick said Monday that she would "like to see [Judy centers] as a national model. It deserves to be."
Before the Judy Center initiative began in 2000, she said, the state evaluated every kindergarten student and found that only 43 percent were ready for school.
Since the initiative began, Grasmick said that number has increased to 80 percent.
Duncan said he is confident that if adults put a stronger focus on early childhood education it wouldn't matter what a child's background is, "they are going to do well."
Duncan said just by visiting Barnhart he was able to see a "remarkable, remarkable effort" from both staff and children.
"The challenge is how to make this the norm," he said.
Officials emphasized the importance of bringing community and school together, noting such initiatives as the Full-Service Community Schools Act of 2009 which would expand programs like Judy centers to children and families across the nation.
According to a press release, the bill would provide $200 million per year for five years to fund grants for school and community organization partnerships. The bill would also fund grants to expand the full-service community school model.
Hoyer said it was always Judy Hoyer's concept that by doing certain things, "if we joined together it would be a much more powerful experience," he said.
"When we as adults come together, great things happen for our children," Duncan said.
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