One of the first decisions a new mother is called on to make can also be her smartest. It's the decision to breastfeed. A smart decision is to breastfeed for six months. A smarter decision is to breastfeed for a year. The longer a mother breastfeeds, the healthier it is for both the mother and the baby. Fortunately, for Shelby County babies, the number of mothers making the decision to breastfeed is increasing – up 41% overall between 2004 and 2010.
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Around the world, a quality education is viewed as the golden ticket to a bright future. Local achievement rates reveal an urgent need to ensure that more students are being adequately prepared to cash in. Last week, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) reported that the city of Memphis is leading the state with the highest number of low performing schools. Figures released by the TDOE last year show that a mere 4 percent of Memphis City Schools students, 20 percent of Shelby County School students, and only 10 percent of students state-wide are meeting college readiness benchmarks.
Pre-K matters. This simple but profoundly important statement is the title of an infographic on the website of The Urban Child Institute. Pre-K is an investment with high returns. We have known for a while that early education, specifically pre-K, pays off in a student's success in school. Children who have experienced quality pre-K education are less likely to need special education or repeat a grade, and are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college.
We have just published our seventh annual Data Book: The State of Children in Memphis and Shelby County, and it's available online now. Over these seven years, the Data Book has become the definitive source of facts about the forces, trends, and factors affecting the healthy brain, social, and physical development of our youngest children. More than anything, the data over these years have confirmed that the focus on optimal brain development for children – particularly from birth to age 3 – was right on target.
It's a simple statement of fact, backed by the findings by hundreds of researchers over many years and the experiences of tens of thousands of educators. They are two words that should be at the top of the list of priorities for the U.S. government, Tennessee government, and our local governments. Those two words are also the title of a new infographic that makes the case for the importance of Pre-K and the dramatic returns on investments that it delivers.
As a brand new school year starts across Shelby County, almost 15,000 five-year-olds will venture into kindergarten for the very first time. Our best estimates tell us that about half of these children will reach kindergarten with strong cognitive, social, and emotional foundations, setting them on a pathway to success both in school and later in life.