Mont­gomery County sher­iff bat­tles crime with books

The Colonial - - OPINION - By Bren­dan Wills


Mont­gomery County Sher­iff Eileen Behr bat­tled crime with books Oct. 30 by read­ing to preschool stu­dents at the Cal­vary Bap­tist Early Learn­ing Center in Nor­ris­town.

Behr’s ef­forts were part of the Fight Crime: In­vest in Kids ini­tia­tive that pro­motes early childhood de­vel­op­ment pro­grams.

Ac­cord­ing to the Fight Crime web­site, the ini­tia­tive is based on the idea that chil­dren who at­tend preschool are more likely to grad­u­ate from high school and less likely to com­mit crimes later in life.

The aim is to give all chil­dren the chance to at­tend preschool, par­tic­u­larly at-risk chil­dren who might not have the eco­nomic re­sources. This is done in the hopes that it will in­di­rectly cut taxes spent on in­car­cer­at­ing chil­dren who end up com­mit­ting crimes later in life.

Be­fore read­ing to the chil­dren, Behr and the Sher­iff’s Depart­ment Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Di­rec­tor Teresa Har­ris met with Bruce Clash, the Penn­syl­va­nia state di­rec­tor of Fight Crime, and Holly Kerins, di­rec­tor of the learn­ing center at Cal­vary Bap­tist. State Rep. Mike Vereb, R-150, was also sched­uled to at­tend but could not due to an ill­ness. The dis­cus­sion cen­tered around WKH EHnH­fiWV RI SrRYLGLng SrHVFKRRO IRr DWrisk chil­dren and the need for leg­is­la­tors to get on board push­ing for more fund­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Herins, Cal­vary Bap­tist cur­rently has 78 chil­dren en­rolled in the learn­ing center, 35 of which par­tic­i­pate in the Pre-K Counts pro­gram through the 2IfiFH RI &KLOG DHYHORSPHnW DnG EDrOy Learn­ing. To qual­ify for Pre-K Counts, which serves al­most 12,000 chil­dren statewide with $87 mil­lion in funds, stu­dents must be 300 per­cent be­low the poverty level. All but one of the other 43 chil­dren are 200 per­cent be­low the poverty level ac­cord­ing to Herin.

“The kids are com­ing out on tar­get for school. If you were to call Nor­ris­town Area School Dis­trict, they would tell you that the kids com­ing out of here are very well pre­pared,” Herins said.

“SHYHnWy-fiYH SHrFHnW RI Rur VWuGHnWV are His­panic, com­ing into us not know­ing any English at all,” she said, adding that WKrHH PRnWKV ODWHr WKH NLGV DrH SrR­fiFLHnW enough to in­ter­pret for their par­ents.

Clash noted that stud­ies on the topic demon­strate that chil­dren in preschool are at the prime neu­ro­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment pe­riod for not just lan­guage skills, but also so­cial skills.

Behr was quick to note how help­ful a pro­gram like Cal­vary Bap­tist is to her ef­forts at keep­ing kids out of trou­ble and on a suc­cess­ful path.

“We talk about in­vest­ing in them early and pre­vent­ing them from mak­ing bad de­ci­sions in ju­nior high and high school to pre­vent them from be­ing a part of the ju­ve­nile sys­tem and hope­fully from be­ing a part of the adult prison sys­tem,” Behr said.

.HHSLng WKHVH FKLOGrHn RuW RI MDLO EHnH­fiWV the en­tire com­mu­nity ac­cord­ing to Clash, who cited a press re­lease from Fight Crime.

“$2.3 bil­lion is spent ev­ery year to house, feed and pro­vide 24-hour su­per­vi­sion of crim­i­nals,” ac­cord­ing to the re­lease.

“By in­vest­ing money in th­ese chil­dren up front, we save on the back end,” said Clash.

The re­lease also cited stud­ies done on early ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams in Yp­si­lanti, Mich., from 1972. The stud­ies fol­lowed two groups of stu­dents from sim­i­lar back­grounds with sim­i­lar so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tuses. One group at­tended a preschool pro­gram and the con­trol group did not.

The stud­ies checked up on th­ese stud­ies pe­ri­od­i­cally through­out life. By age 27, 35 per­cent of those who did not at­tend the pro­gram were found to be chronic law break­ers com­pared to seven per­cent of those who did at­tend the pro­gram.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­lease, a sim­i­lar re­search pro­gram in Chicago demon­strated nHDrOy $11 Ln VRFLHWDO EHnH­fiWV IRr HYHry $1 in­vested in learn­ing cen­ters for stu­dents, mean­ing Penn­syl­va­nia could po­ten­tially re­ceive $11 mil­lion for ev­ery $1 mil­lion it gives to early childhood ed­u­ca­tion. Herins agreed with the need for fund­ing. “We go down to Har­ris­burg for Early LHDrnLng DDy DnG figKW IRr IunGLng. :H gLYH stu­dents and teach­ers the day off and head down. We do that ev­ery year,” Herins said.

7KH EHnH­fiWV gR EHyRnG finDnFHV DFFRrGing to Behr.

“The pos­i­tive side is that when you get them early and ed­u­cate them, you can also be sav­ing a life. They get in­volved with drugs and they be­come tragedies,” Behr said. “If you reach one, you reach two or three of them, their friends or fam­ily. This is a won­der­ful tar­get age.”

Herins agreed with the abil­ity to reach out to fam­i­lies through th­ese pro­grams. Cal­vary Bap­tist holds par­ent­ing classes pe­ri­od­i­cally through­out the year, which help to get par­ents on board with the ef­fort to al­low th­ese chil­dren a chance to be suc­cess­ful.

Har­ris, who grew up go­ing to a Head Start pro­gram in New York, spoke to the need of chang­ing the out­look on th­ese kids. Head Start is a fed­eral pro­gram that pro­motes ed­u­ca­tion of chil­dren in low­in­come fam­i­lies.

“A lot of times peo­ple look at the kids and think they have a pre­de­ter­mined des­tiny,” Har­ris said. “It makes it a more demo­cratic process when you make the ed­u­ca­tion part HYHn, WKH SODyLng fiHOG IRr HYHryRnH. EGuFD­tion spend­ing is a place where you can give ev­ery­one the same start.”

Behr men­tioned the ef­forts of Vereb to KHOS OHYHO WKH SODyLng fiHOG.

“He has al­ways been in­volved in ed­u­ca­tion and chil­dren. I’m very proud that DV D IRrPHr SROLFH RI­fiFHr DnG nRw VWDWH rep­re­sen­ta­tive, that Mike is still step­ping uS DnG figKWLng,” BHKr VDLG.

Clash too men­tioned the ef­forts of Gov. Tom Cor­bett, cit­ing 5 per­cent in­creases for early childhood pro­grams that were en­acted. De­spite th­ese num­bers, Clash said there is room to im­prove.

“In the end we’re only meet­ing 17 per­cent of 3- and 4-year-olds statewide. Only 17 per­cent have ac­cess to high qual­ity pub­lic early ed­u­ca­tion,” Clash said. “We’re ask­ing the gov­er­nor as he crafts his bud­get for next year to make an even PRrH VLgnL­fiFDnW LnFrHDVH Ln HDrOy FKLOG­hood pro­grams.”

Mont­gomery County Sher­iff Eileen Whalon Behr reads to preschool chil­dren at Cal­vary Bap­tist Chil­dren’s Learn­ing Center in Nor­ris­town.

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