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Giving children a ‘Great Start’

October 21, 2009
The Daily Mining Gazette

Did you know that more than half of the preschool children in the Copper Country are considered low income, based on qualification for the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program?

WIC provides for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for women, infants and children up to age five.

Did you know that more than 40 percent of Baraga County birth mothers smoked while pregnant, compared with about 14 percent statewide (smoking while pregnant can lead to low birth weight and chronic respiratory problems in babies)?

Or that almost one out of four local 2-5 year-olds are considered overweight?

The Great Start Collaborative ( was formed to examine such information - but also to try to do something about it. The collaborative includes parents, community and business leaders, charitable and faith-based organizations, health and human service agencies, and educators. The organization's goal is to make sure that every child in Baraga, Houghton and Keweenaw counties has a great start - safe, healthy, and ready to succeed in school and in life.

Every child and their parents deserves to have access to the services and programs that will help them to be ready for school. Physical and social emotional health, early education and parent support are paramount to school readiness - just as much as learning letters and numbers. Most brain development - up to 95 percent - occurs by age five. Yet, the vast majority of public spending on children - 90 percent - happens after a child turns five.

Studies demonstrate that an investment in quality preschool pays dividends for children and for K-12 school systems. Regular prenatal visits - ensuring the health of babies from the very start - also have a large impact. In fact, high-quality early childhood programs lead to:

Improvements in educational performance, including higher test scores.

Reductions in special education, grade retention, and school drop-outs

Increases in high school and college graduation rates

Reductions in juvenile delinquency and criminal activity later in life

Higher earnings and tax revenue by child and parent

Reductions in welfare necessity and child abuse

The Copper Country Great Start Collaborative (GSC) is part of the Early Childhood Investment Corporation, a Michigan-funded organization that was on the verge of disappearing through the budget cuts under consideration by the state legislature in recent weeks.

"That would have been a tragedy," said Copper Country GSC executive director, Emilie Krznarich. "While state and federal programs exist to help young children and their families, there is no organization documenting the gaps in services -and the overlaps. And, quite frankly, there is no central organization serving as an advocate for our youngest citizens."

Krznarich says that, even with the resources available from both government and private organizations, some children arrive in kindergarten with barriers to learning. Sometimes it is the lack of health care and sometimes it is an undiagnosed physical or mental disability. One of the functions of the GSC is to try and level that playing field.

"While many programs exist, access and quality can vary," she said. "Some needs are not being addressed and some children and families are not being served."

To address the situation, the GSC compiled extensive data in five key focus areas:

Pediatric and family health

Social and emotional health

Child care and early education

Parenting leadership

Family support

This data collection resulted in a report to the community. The examples given at the beginning of this article indicate some of the findings. During the past year the Copper Country Great Start Collaborative has worked with the community to develop a plan that addresses gaps and needs in our three-county area. Work on the plan will begin within the next month.

"The collaborative is not funded to operate new programs or services," Krznarich said. "But our collaborative members are those organizations that already serve young children and families in some way. The GSC will serve as a place where these community partners can work together to improve the lives of young children and their families."

"We will also continue to promote community awareness for early childhood issues and advocate for quality early childhood programs and services," she said.

Parent participation is also key to the Great Start Collaborative. The Copper Country Great Start Parent Coalition, and parent liaison, Heather Store, are working to bring a parent perspective to early childhood services and issues, and to help build public support for early childhood initiatives and investments. That parent involvement paid off in a big way recently.

Through parent advocacy efforts during the recent state budget crisis, money was restored to some of the local programs that had been totally eliminated from the June budget proposal.

"Over 200 signatures were collected locally and submitted to our state representatives," said Store. "Parents' voices made a difference."

For more information on the Copper Country Great Start Collaborative and Parent Coalition, visit

Editor's note: This feature is part of a paid advertising package purchased by the Copper Country Great Start Collaborative. Businesses interested in being featured on the Business page may call Yvonne Robillard at 483-2220.



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