FAYETTEVILLE — A member of the family that founded J.B. Hunt Transport Services said Friday that it plans to make a major investment in early childhood education programs in Northwest Arkansas.
Jane Hunt Meade, the daughter of J.B. and Johnelle Hunt, said her family has committed $1 million for 10 years to help cover child care costs and additional education for those working in the child care field.
Meade made the announcement Friday toward the end of the Early Childhood Workforce Summit, hosted by Child Care Aware of Northwest Arkansas.
She called the family’s investment “seed money” and encouraged those attending the summit to add what they can. Her group, the Community Supporters of Quality Childhood Education, has an account set up with the Arkansas Community Foundation. The group will start by focusing on four or five early childhood education centers in the region on a pilot basis, Meade said.
Speakers stressed the importance of affordable, quality care for young children and how that affects everything from the economy to national security.
Nikki Edge, a professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, gave a brief lesson on how connections between neurons in the brain develop through everyday experiences.
Synaptic connections develop at a faster rate during the first three years of life than they ever do, making it a critical time in a child’s development, she said.
“The key to a properly wired brain is the consistent presence of nurturing and responsive adults that interact with a child on a daily basis and provide the stimulation that they need to wire their brain properly,” Edge said.
Not every child has access to a responsive, caring adult who will interact with them in a positive way, what Edge called “chronic understimulation” that will be reflected in their brain development.
“Instead of having connections in their brain that are strengthening literacy, language and communication skills, their brains are getting really strong in the parts of the brain that are responsible for fear and anxiety,” she said.
Children with healthy brains are more likely to have the quality of being “teachable” and grow up to have the kind of soft skills employers crave, Edge said. Soft skills include things such as communication, collaboration and teamwork.
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