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First lady Northam focuses on education during Roanoke Valley visit

ROANOKE, Va.- – As a former science educator for 12 years and experience with grades K through 5, the First Lady of Virginia says education in important from the very beginning.

"To make sure we have nurturing and educational opportunities in those early years makes all the difference," said Pamela Northam. 

At the Raleigh Court TAP Head Start, she learned Thursday about their approach to helping families through its SwiftStart program.

It offers parents of young children, like Chance Austin, from Craig County, free training for a higher-paying career and provides free child care.

"I couldn't afford to go to school and having two kids. It just wasn't feasible for me able to do schooling. They made it to where the program pays for your tuition and pays for all the materials you need for school. They help with day care expenses," said Austin.

Northam was also able to see how children learn on a tour of Small Steps Learning Academy in Salem and Today's Kids Inc. 

One of the focuses for the visit was to discuss the implementation of Virginia's Preschool Development Grant. The grant is intended to strengthen the early Childhood  Care and Education System. While there, she was able to play with some of the youngest students and have story time with some of the older children.

"They are making the most out of these mixed delivery grant dollars to do wonderful care for their children, from the youngest infants to the children that are ready to go off to kindergarten," said Northam. 

United Way is a pilot community using part of $9.9 million allocated to better prepare children before they enter the school system.

"Over 85 percent of brain development occurs before the age of 5. So if we are waiting until children go to kindergarten, we have missed our mark," said Vivien McMahan, director of early learning strategies. 

Statewide, there are 604 sites and more than 3,000 teachers participating in the grant program.

About the Author:

Irisha joined the WSLS news team in January 2017 after spending four years as a reporter in Georgia.