Equity in Early Childhood Education: Is Atlanta a Tale of Two Cities?
By Blythe Keeler Robinson, President and CEO, Sheltering Arms
In high school I had to read “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. It begins with a memorable first sentence that captures the current state of affairs in our country, our state and more specifically, our city, as we grapple with a global pandemic and the legacy of systemic racism. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Atlanta is the capital of U.S. inequality for the second year in a row, according to a Bloomberg analysis of large American cities with a population of at least a quarter-million. Atlanta has the worse income inequality in the United States. It sits in a state that has the largest gender wage gap in the nation among self-employed adults. Atlanta also has suffered from a lack of economic mobility. It ranked 49th of 50 metro areas in a 2014 Harvard study of inter-generational mobility — or poor children growing up to become well off. And Georgia ranks in the bottom third of the poorest states in the nation. Atlanta truly is a tale of two cities.
Why is achieving equity so hard? I suspect it’s hard because inequity is ingrained in the fabric of our society. Everyone talks about fair or everyone having a fair shot, but we neglect to acknowledge our collective history and the fact that many of the systems in place have, for generations, disadvantaged people of color. Fairness means everyone gets what they need. Unless we are intentional about interrogating our systems and processes and dismantling racism, our city will continue to be the epitome of the haves and the have-nots.
At Sheltering Arms, we view and approach our work each day through an equity lens. We provide early childhood education and care to the most vulnerable families in Atlanta, serving a majority Black population, and we support the caregivers, parents and guardians of those children by equipping them with the necessary resources to break the generational poverty cycle. Ninety-two percent of our families report Sheltering Arms staff is helpful in connecting them with useful community resources. We are doing our best to provide our families and children what they need to bridge the equity gap. We provide the children with a high-quality education, and for families, we provide workforce development, and guidance regarding post-secondary education, health and mental health services and other essential resources. Our kids enter the school system Kindergarten-ready and over 90% meet or exceed the developmental milestones for their age by the end of the school year.
Change starts with us…and it starts now. We must work together to create a more equitable world for Atlanta’s children, the leaders of tomorrow.