- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2014

Back in the late ‘80s, my wife and I cultivated our search for alternative education experiences for our children. From our search we were able to develop and design programs that fostered a culture of education. In implementing an integrated system of education and environment, we were able to help channel children towards actually loving learning and looking forward to their daily educational experience.

In founding the Brooklyn Preparatory School in New York City, we facilitated exposure to the arts, reading and writing, horseback riding, swimming, museum tours, and technology. When our students graduated, they had been so enriched that they read at a second- or third-grade level. Throughout the past 20 years, our students have scored in the 90th percentile on the Stanford Achievement Test Series.

There are some pre-K programs around the country that exist for any child regardless of family earnings or children’s performance. Currently, there are a few states that are trailblazing towards funding universal pre-K.

While there are eligible families who elect to send their preschoolers to pre-K, there remains the family that will either select alternative early childhood education or simply not send their preschoolers to any program or school.

Based on the results of a wide range of research studies, assertions have long been held that the most crucial years in a child’s development are the early years. It is widely accepted that these pivotal years are the key to success for our younger generations, as they are essential for achieving high-quality success in school and in strengthening a professional career. Even just a small amount of reading to youngsters between the ages of 3 and 4 stimulates the developing mind tremendously.

Instead of allowing our youth to indulge in vices that hold a socio-cultural acceptance such as eating an excess of sugary or fast foods, we must inculcate responsibility for certain actions. The path of behavioral correction must be traveled early on during those paramount years.

Parents might not always have the time to be there with their child 24/7 if they are working hard to provide for their families. However, for at-home parents — especially single parents — it is imperative that a “can-do” attitude exhibited for the child, because motivation is the icing on the cake for a young person’s learning.

It is absolutely necessary to empower young people at their most formidable age in order to fully prepare them for their educational journey, as well as equipping better competitors for the market place. In creating an educational culture, there should not be a choice between whole language and phonetic skills. I believe that both immersion and technical skills should be brought together into one learning environment. Whole language immerses students in reading and writing without teaching phonics. From experience many of us have concluded that individuals best learn their language when immersed in their culture.

The hidden caveat is that while, yes, general linguistics might be obtained, there remains a serious lack with regards to the technical skills that phonics otherwise provides.

This isn’t about bringing two separate methodologies together but rather stressing the fact that education is a civil right that is inherently irreplaceable. Education should be something that is universally established in our nation on an early childhood and elementary level.

That’s why my wife and I are ever so adamantly passionate in our support of the concept of universal pre-K. Exactly how such an initiative is to be funded is fair discussion; however, the fundamental need for it certainly should in no way be up for debate.

A.R. Bernard is the spiritual leader of the 37,000-member congregation, Christian Culture Center in New York City. He is also chairman of the board for the Cultural Arts Academy Charter School.