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Former New England Patriots player Malcolm Mitchell joins education leaders to emphasize early learning

By Jacob Perkins
Kentucky Teacher

A former National Football League player-turned-children’s book author told attendees at the Early Childhood Institute that it is imperative to focus on early childhood education and literacy because a lack of education can become a “generational curse.”

Malcolm Mitchell, a former wide receiver for the New England Patriots who was named the 2016 Children’s Author of the Year by the Georgia Writers Association, stressed the importance of breaking generational cycles when he addressed the conference last week in Louisville.

Malcolm Mitchell, a former wide receiver for the New England Patriots, speaks to a crowd of early childhood educators at the 2019 Early Childhood Institute in Louisville. In addition to Mitchell’s keynote address, a roundtable discussion on early learning was moderated by Renee Shaw, host of KET’s “Kentucky Tonight.” (Photo by Jacob Perkins)

“If my mom’s mother didn’t know how to read, then my mom didn’t understand the importance of reading, which means that I wouldn’t understand the importance of reading,” Mitchell said. “And it just passes down. At some point that cycle has to be broken.”

The Governor’s Office of Early Childhood hosted ECI for hundreds of early childhood educators from across Kentucky. In addition to Mitchell’s keynote address, the three-day conference featured a roundtable discussion on early learning moderated by Renee Shaw, host of KET’s “Kentucky Tonight.”

The roundtable featured state and national early childhood education advocates and focused on ways Kentucky can continue to put an emphasis on early childhood education. Leading the discussion were Wayne Lewis, Kentucky Education Commissioner; Derrick K. Ramsey, secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet; and state Sen. Danny Carroll (R-Paducah).

During the discussion, Mitchell emphasized the importance of students learning to read at grade level before 3rd grade.

“Reading is the single most important thing a child can do,” he said. “And based off of statistics, they better learn how to do it before third grade, which means somebody needs to get to them before that. I think the people in this room have the ability to do so.”

Lewis said it is just as important to focus on standards-aligned instruction in Kentucky’s P-12 classrooms as it is for parents to begin focusing on the basics of learning with their children at the prenatal stage.

“We should be delivering, in every classroom across Kentucky, standards-aligned curriculum, meaning we know what it is that we want our kids to learn at every grade level, and that’s what our teaching should be aligned to,” Lewis said.

Lewis also highlighted KDE’s summer reading initiative, “Stride, Don’t Slide,” at the conference. The initiative emphasizes early childhood education through providing books and learning resources for families with babies, toddlers and school-age children.

“With this initiative, our goals are to encourage parents to read to their youngest children for 20 minutes a day, encourage older students to read daily and promote summer-long learning for all students,” he said.

For more information on the summer reading initiative and for tips to help fight summer slide, visit the “Stride, Don’t Slide” website.

This story first appeared in Kentucky Teacher, a publication of the Kentucky Department of Education.

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