Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Change the Course of a Child’s Life With Your Tennis Shoes

By Renee Boyle

How do you create change? As residents of the National Capital Area, we have access to the high-profile streets and monuments where banners, posters and parades make the news for national and global issues.

If you’re someone who prefers a more low-key approach for local results, I invite you to dig out comfy tennis shoes and sign up for Sunday, Sept. 29 the 7th Annual Teddy Bear 5K & 1K, hosted by Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center. The event raises much-needed funds for the nonprofit preschool that gives 80 children, ages 2, 3 and 4, a high-quality preschool experience at a rate that’s affordable to low-income families.

Come 9 a.m. on Sept. 29, you’ll join other area residents, some pushing children in strollers, some pumped for a spirited run vying for prizes, and some out for daily exercise at their own pace. The 5K starts at Pimmit Hills Park at 2061 Arch Drive, and runs through Pimmit Hills Neighborhood, west of Falls Church City.

To ramp up the fun, mascots from local organizations will lead the 1K at 10 a.m. on Griffith Drive, the first street of the 5K, which will be closed to traffic. Everyone is welcome and everyone’s effort is rewarded with a pint-size teddy bear when they cross the finish line.

Along the 5K course, you’ll read signs of the compelling need for preschool for kids from low-income families, and for kids from any income-level with a special need.

By age 3, children growing up in affluent families hear up to 30 million more words than children in lower-income families.

A child who has a developmental delay that is identified and treated before age 5 has a better chance of overcoming the delay with better skills, than a child diagnosed later, even with more intense therapy for years longer.

Children who start kindergarten ready for school have an 82 percent chance of mastering basic skills by age 11 vs. a 45 percent chance for children who started school not ready.

So, what change will you create with a walk or run in the Teddy Bear 5K & 1K?

You’ll be eliminating the cascade of problems that start with a “learning gap.” Children who start kindergarten without English language or the emotional ability to withhold a tantrum if upset, are unlikely to hit the critical benchmark of being able to read by third grade, a predictor of high school graduation. They are the 7 percent of children in Fairfax County who failed to graduate on time in 2018.

Learning gaps take a toll on children. After years of failure, by middle school children are prone to drop out before graduating. They are prey for gangs. Or seeking a purpose and an emotional attachment, they become teenage parents. Without education or skills, their future of financial struggle and poverty is predictable.

The antidote to the learning gap is the chance for a child to spend his early years in a high-quality preschool such as Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center. Children are immersed in classrooms equipped with learning tools that are in short supply in low-income families — books, building blocks, art supplies, and most importantly, time with caring, educated adults who nurture their language development. Children whose family speaks another language at home are bilingual when they start kindergarten.

What’s more, children who need special services such as speech therapy or support for emotional traumas receive weekly services at no additional cost or time away from their hourly jobs for parents.

The result is an equal opportunity for each child to be prepared to benefit from the area’s strong local public schools.

You can change the course of their lives by coming out on Sunday, Sept. 29 for the Teddy Bear 5K & 1K.

Register at: www.athlinks.com/event/2019-teddy-bear-5k-1k-walkrun-86494.

• Register by Aug. 30 and you’ll be guaranteed a tee-shirt in your size;

• Make an additional donation: $25 buys books for five classrooms; $35 pays for art supplies for a special class project for four classes; $110 gives 80 children breakfast and two healthy snacks for two days.

• Encourage family, friends and neighbors to join you;

• Pick up your tee-shirt and packet of goodies Saturday, Sept. 28, 2:30 – 5 p.m. at Road Runner Sports on Broad Street.

• Continue the festivities at the free, annual Pimmit Hills Day in Olney Park. Come and meet some of the children who will have a brighter future, thanks to your action.

Learn about Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center’s preschool program, at fcmlcc.org or call 703-534-4907. The Center has a limited number of openings this fall for children from income-qualifying families.

Renee Boyle is development director for Falls Church-McLean Children’s Center.