In this episode, host Joel Gagne speaks with Janine Levin, who teaches pre-kindergarten at Maury Elementary School in the Washington, D.C. Public Schools system.

Janine, in her seventh year at Maury and 18th in teaching, talks about her passion for public education. As a senior in college, her academic adviser pushed her toward a career in Montgomery County, but she wanted to teach in the city where she could experience an education of her own.

Janine says her passion has only grown since then, and she continues to draw enthusiasm from the kids. She enjoys the innocence, honesty and authenticity of students in the pre-kindergarten age group.

Joel and Janine discuss how the influence of a pre-K education follows students throughout their schooling. It’s an important year (or two, in some cases) because educational gaps are difficult and costly to close later on in life.

Two years of high-quality pre-K leads to stronger performance going forward, Janine says.

“So this has led a lot of states, including D.C., to try to get it right from the start by expanding investments in pre-kindergarten,” Janine says. “And it’s working. They’re ready to be in school.”

Children are impressionable at the pre-K age. Janine tells stories of two students who behaved horribly at first but, only 10 months later, turned into model students.

“It was incredible to see,” she says.

Of course, they are learning about more than just appropriate behavior. Janine says 85% of brain growth occurs by age five, so it’s a good time to take advantage of intellectual curiosity.

“Pre-K provides children with experiences that just lay that foundation for all of their future learning,” she says. “It makes them excited about learning, it makes them curious about learning more.”

Asked about one thing she would change in pre-K education, Janine suggests improving wraparound services, and specifically mental health services.

Many kids, she says, have special learning needs or mental health disorders. So she caters lessons to individuals. And she would like to see more therapists working one-on-one with kids.

“It’s figuring out how kids work, what do they need to get them ready,” Janine says.

Wrapping up the conversation by recommending a book, Janine suggests Walking with the Wind by John Lewis. Among education-focused books, she recommends the series by Dr. Louise Bates Ames that includes Your One-Year-Old, Your Two-Year-Old and so on.

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