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Tulsa Leads Way In Educating Infants, Toddlers, Research Shows

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TULSA, Oklahoma -

Right now, parents are working to figure out what to do when schools shut down Monday.

But closing isn't an option for some Tulsa early childhood education centers.

Educare is a year-round program and there won't be any walkouts. 

While there's a lot of negativity surrounding education in our state right now, research shows Tulsa is leading the way in a nationwide growing trend of educating infants and toddlers.

"A lot of people think in my neighborhood that this is like a nursery, like a daycare, but it's not,” said Parent Susy Mauricio, "by the time they transition to Kindergarten, they know how to spell their name, they know how to almost read, you know, they recognize the letters and their writing skills are way much better than the first two." 

Four of Susy Mauricio's kids are Educare kids, where learning starts at birth. 

"I have five children who are dual language learners so we're constantly mapping "you're playing with the blue car." or "Look, can you put this inside of the red bucket?" said Infant/Toddler Teacher Terrece Shannon. 

It's full-time, year-round education that begins with a baseline assessment to figure out where each new student is developmentally. 

"It is so amazing. The younger we get them, the bigger the change is because we've had them and we're able to saturate them with language and saturate with routine and consistency and saturate them with reading,” said Shannon. 

Recent studies are backing that up. Researchers at OU-Tulsa tracked their growth over time.

"For very young children, infants and toddlers, after one year, the Educare children had better language outcomes, had better parent/child interactions, and fewer parent-reported behavior problems," said Diane Horm with the OU Tulsa Early Childhood Education Institute. 

Eligibility is based on age and income, so each family has to show proof that they meet federal poverty guidelines. Families with high-risk factors get priority slots.

"I have worked with children who have domestic violence in the homes. I've worked with children where this is some form of addiction, whether it's drug or alcohol," said Shannon.

Caren Calhoun, the Executive Director for Tulsa Educare, said the mission starts at home. 

"We believe in really helping support the parent and learning their child's health and development, their role in school readiness, their role in their academic success,” said Calhoun. 

She said success is built on stability, in and out of the classroom but there are only so many spaces.

"I think we're still not doing enough," said the Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness.

The Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness says too many families don't have access to programs like Educare, leading to poor education and health outcomes. 

"That is a big problem for us. Oklahoma does not rank well on studies that look at how many adversities our children in Oklahoma are experiencing, especially at a young age," they said. 

It’s an age where moldable minds are the building blocks for the future. 

"If we teach them now, we're going to make differences in homes, which means we'll make differences in communities," said Shannon. 

"The difference, I see … they're very smart, and they have learned a lot, so I am very thankful for this program," said Mauricio. 

One teacher in every classroom has a Bachelor's Degree which is a rare resource for kids so young. 

Tulsa is the only city with three locations and a fourth in the works.

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