Nebraskans are known for our family values, strong work ethic and helping our neighbors when they are in need. We have a long history of coming together in good times and in bad.

So, it’s not surprising to see early success with a new collaboration with ESU 13, the Panhandle Partnership, Inc., and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska to better understand and improve early learning and developmental outcomes for children in the Panhandle.

We spent many hours talking to hundreds of our neighbors across 15 Panhandle communities. Through these honest and open conversations, we learned that there are many things to be proud of — we have caring teachers and child care providers, as well as strong programs that support our children and families.

But we also learned that we have important work to do. Thirty-nine percent of children from birth to age 5 in Nebraska are considered at risk for school failure, and census data indicate that these numbers are growing fastest in our rural communities. The need for high-quality and affordable early childhood programs and services is urgent and growing.

We recently released these findings at a special event in Gering. More than 100 parents, educators and business leaders joined us and are engaged and ready to roll up their sleeves to turn these statistics around.

We share a vision that every child from every Panhandle community will receive the care and education they need to be successful in life. Our next step is to create a strategic plan to accomplish this.

This plan will include a number of key initiatives. We will work diligently and intensively to develop quality birth to grade three educational programs. We will prioritize engaging and collaborating with not only schools, but also families to better understand their unique needs and challenges. And we will continue to support our caregivers and teachers by advocating for living wages and better training.

Along with our partners, we are devoted to this work and committed to make the Nebraska Panhandle a great place for children, families and communities to grow.

To read the report: https://bit.ly/2ZhEGtH.

Faith Mills is the executive director of the Panhandle Partnership, Inc., and Andrew Dick, Ed.D., is the administrator of Educational Service Unit 13.

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