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Early childhood education discussed at Chamber Conversation

Early childhood education discussed at Chamber Conversation

More than a dozen early learning centers have closed in Collier County since March 2020, impacting the current workforce and creating economic barriers for employers trying to recruit and retain top talent.

“Early learning is a talent availability issue, which is a business issue, and will continue to be an issue for generations to come if we don’t do something about it,” said Alex Breault, the director of talent initiatives at the Greater Naples Chamber.'

The Chamber hosted a Chamber Conversation with childcare providers on Feb. 2. The virtual event, sponsored by Champions for Learning, was an opportunity to learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing child care providers. It featured a panel discussion with local providers, as well as remarks from Vance Aloupis, CEO of the Children’s Movement of Florida and a state representative, and Madeleine Thakur, the president of Children’s Movement of Florida.

“When we look at the need for students to be kindergarten-ready and be successful in their academic career, an early learning program helps children be ready for kindergarten, said Dawn Montecalvo, president and CEO of the Guadalupe Center. “It’s really important to start when the brain is in that development stage as early as six weeks.”

During the first three years of life, the brain grows 80% of its adult size, said Jessica Campbell, the executive director of Fun Time Early Childhood Academy. Early childhood education, she continued, has a significant impact on emotional development, learning abilities and how students will do later in life.

The pandemic has had a significant impact on access to early learning, with 15 Collier centers closing since March 2020 resulting in the loss of more than 700 seats. However, experts said other factors, such as wages and staff shortages, have also contributed to the challenges.

“Our teachers are front line workers, and they’re dealing primarily with children that never have been vaccinated,” said Heather Singleton, the executive director of Child’s Path. “We’ve had more staff and children illnesses, which do have an effect, because either we might not charge a parent tuition if we have to close a classroom or if we close the classroom that also has an effect on our bottom line.”

Competitive wages also factor in to the equation, said Aloupis. Early learning educators currently make between $11 and $12 an hour.

“What we’re seeing now is a lot of child care workers are finding it more beneficial to work at fast food restaurants or big box stores because they’ll make $16 or $17 an,” he said. “This means centers cannot serve as many children. For instance, a teacher in a (pre-kindergarten) classroom in Florida can serve 18 students, and if a child care center loses that teacher, that’s 18 children a center cannot serve.”

Access to high-quality, affordable early learning programs have an immediate impact on the workforce as well. Aloupis said by focusing on early learning, organizations are also able to focus on getting parents back to work.

“If parents don’t have a place for their child to be safe, nurtured and be able to learn throughout the day, it makes it difficult for other industries to come back,” he said.

The Greater Naples Chamber has identified expanding access to high-quality, affordable early childhood education as a top public policy priority. To learn more, visit

To sign up for updates about early childhood education initiatives, click here.

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