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At preschools in high-poverty areas, ‘We’re planting seeds for life’

December 11, 2017
Suzanne Perez Tobias
The Wichita Eagle

William Eckels admits it: The pizza made him do it.

After picking up his son, Elijah, from The Opportunity Project learning center in northeast Wichita one day, he noticed a tower of pizza boxes in the common area.

“Elijah’s ready to eat and says, ‘Daddy, can we get some pizza?’ And I was hungry, too,” Eckels recalls. “So I sat down and heard something about, ‘Do you want to be a better parent?’

“Well, that’s not a ‘no’ answer.”

That evening Eckels attended his first “Parent Cafe” at The Opportunity Project, called TOP for short, a nonprofit group dedicated to early education for children living in poverty. Two years later, Eckels was part of a team that met with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to lobby for high-quality preschool.

“TOP is the best thing that ever happened to us,” Eckels said. “I’m not saying I didn’t care before, but now I know so much more about what it takes and … the power of that early knowledge.”

About 10 years ago TOP, which serves children from ages 1 to 5, began tracking how its students do in school after they leave TOP. The organization runs centers in three high-poverty areas in Wichita and Derby.

study published this year in the Journal of Research in Childhood Education shows dramatic results:

Compared to a control group of children from similar backgrounds who had not attended TOP programs, the TOP students did better at nearly every grade level in every category – academics, social skills and attendance.