A: I volunteer in one of the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ pre-K classrooms that is located in the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. My team at PNC has “adopted” this classroom and sends someone every week to help the pre-K teacher in a variety of ways. It has been incredibly rewarding to see how the children grow and develop throughout the year, as there is no question that this high-quality pre-K experience is setting them up for success in kindergarten and beyond. Also, through our volunteerism, we have earned grants for the classroom, specifically through PNC’s Grants for Great Program, which provides teachers with unrestricted funds to purchase materials for classroom activities. It is wonderful when we see the children working on an art project, and we know that the supplies they’re using were purchased with our grant dollars.
A: I have learned so much from the early childhood education experts that sit on the Grow Up Great Advisory Council. They have been an invaluable source of wisdom and have really helped us set the program’s strategy. Many of the things that I have learned about early childhood education, I have been able to apply to my home life.
My oldest son was just five months old when we launched Grow Up Great. He’s now 13, but I used to joke that he was our test case. It was an amazing experience to spend my day working on Grow Up Great and then go home and live it firsthand. So many of the resources we created with our partners at Sesame Workshop focus on giving parents simple tips about how to turn everyday moments into learning opportunities. I learned that easy things like talking about the colors and shapes of the food we were eating was helping to stimulate my son’s brain and build his vocabulary. I would have these tips top of mind when I got home and did my best to put them into practice.
Also, I had a lot of opportunities to visit high-quality early education centers as part of my work with Grow Up Great. This experience helped me know what to look for in my sons’ childcare center. Unfortunately, access to quality and affordable early care and education continues to be a huge issue for many families. I know that my husband and I were incredibly fortunate to be able to find and afford a child care center where my boys were loved, cared for and well-educated while we were at work.
A: The issue has really evolved over the last decade. When we started the program, we had to explain the importance of early childhood education, as the research that shows what a tremendous investment early education is and how it can positively impact a child’s life trajectory was not widely known or understood. Now, the issue is much more mainstream, and people understand its importance. Funding, however, has not kept pace with awareness, a problem that often limits families’ access to high-quality early childhood education.
Fortunately, there have been some tremendous strides made at the local level, at increasing both the availability and quality of pre-k education. Cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati and Philadelphia have collaborated with a wide range of stakeholders to design comprehensive plans to efficiently and effectively expand access to high-quality pre-K education. I am excited to see these plans unfold, as each is somewhat unique to their communities, and hope that they will serve as model programs for other cities to emulate.
A: It has been amazingly well-received. When we started the program, we thought the grants would be the most important component of the program. While the money is important, the Advisory Council told us that it was our corporate voice that could really make an impact on the issue of early childhood education. They felt that because we were an unexpected advocate for early education, people would listen to us a bit differently. We’ve taken this insight very seriously, promoting early education as an economic and workforce development tool, and have received an incredibly positive response from educators and nonprofits. At the end of the day, our goal is to give children the best start to their education so that they not only grow up, but grow up great!
Head of PNC Community Affairs