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These Nebraska School Districts Look to Serve Children Beginning at Birth

The family engagement room at Belleaire Elementary School in the suburbs of Omaha is bustling on a late October morning. Kindergarten teacher Kelsea Heesacker comes in to chat with the school counselor and to grab a winter coat for a little girl who came to school without one. Meghan McCormack, whose job is to visit families in their homes, pulls on her own coat as she hurries outside to meet a mom whose kids aren’t old enough for school yet. And Breanna Gruhn-McLaughlin, a family facilitator who plans monthly get-togethers for families, pours over a stack of manuals on how to nurture parent-child relationships.

The hum of activities in the family room represents a much larger initiative. Belleaire is one of 10 schools in the Omaha metropolitan area that are rethinking the scope of early childhood education.

Traditionally, early childhood education focuses on serving children before they reach kindergarten. But more recently, researchers have begun to think about early childhood education as encompassing the first eight years—years that are critical for neural development and where early interventions can have a profound impact in later years.