Montgomery County sheriff battles crime with books
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.
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“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.