Onsite daycare, flexible schedules, and other programs have long been considered great ways for businesses to attract working parents. However, the trend has been relatively slow to take off throughout the United States. Now, a conference in Hagerstown, MD is calling for businesses to begin investing in these initiatives, calling them a key part of early childhood education.
At an Eggs and Issues Breakfast held by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, around 45 attendees listened to speakers discuss why businesses should support efforts to improve preschool education in Washington County. Sponsored by the Hagerstown Rotary Club, the event took place at the Hager Hall Conference and Event Center in Hagerstown, with remarks by the policy director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce, Caitlin Codell. Dave Hanlin, the chairman of the Rotary Literacy Task Force, also presented local information.
Hanlin said that the main difference between the local community and the state as a whole was licensed prekindergarten programs: in Washington County, 43% of children under the age of 5 are receiving care at home or from an informal caregiver, whereas only 28% of children statewide did the same. Hanlin hypothesized that this attention might not be high quality enough to give young children the head start they need to succeed. However, he admitted that cost might prevent many families from enrolling their children in private preschools programs.
Following Hanlin’s comments, the chamber members discussed ways the Hagerstown business community could help fill this gap. Chamber President Paul Frey promised to speak to the group’s executive committee about their educational priorities. Meanwhile, a question-and-answer session included suggestions which ranged from talking to employees about how they engage with their children’s learning to allowing parents time off to meet with teachers.
Over the course of the event, Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox mentioned companies like Volvo and Antietam Cable, a media group, which are helping students access technology. He also suggested that businesses help adults who cannot read English learn through different programs, allowing them to help their children in turn. Wilcox also suggested that the Chamber of Commerce members ask students for their transcripts when they apply for jobs, as this information will give them a better idea of their character and attendance habits.
At the end of the breakfast, Hanlin encouraged the attendees to visit the annual Literacy Summit at Hagerstown Community College. Held on May 15, the state Schools Superintendent Lillian Lowery will be this year’s keynote speaker.