Statehouse rally celebrates 15 years of First Steps

  • Friday, February 21, 2014

  • Updated Tuesday, February 25, 2014 11:55 am

First Steps Hundreds celebrate early childhood successes.

Nearly 800 supporters of South Carolina First Steps to School Readiness, including participants from Georgetown County, gathered on the Statehouse steps Wednesday, February 5th for a celebration of 15 years of early childhood successes in South Carolina.

The Early Learning Celebration for South Carolina’s Children & Families rally, focused on the impact that First Steps, the state’s only entity focused exclusively on increasing school readiness outcomes for all children ages 0 to 5, has had in local communities across the state.

Rep. Shannon Erickson (R-Beaufort), herself an owner of three child care centers in the Lowcountry, encouraged the crowd saying, “I want you to feel good standing here on your Statehouse steps, about the difference you make in the lives of the South Carolinians that you work with – those youngest citizens. You change their lives, and you change the lives of our state every day as a result of your hard work.”

Participants also heard from First Steps Legislative Board Members Sen. Joel Lourie (D-Richland), Rep. Jerry Govan (D-Orangeburg) and Rep. Rita Allison (R-Spartanburg) who each spoke about the impact that First Steps is making in South Carolina. Additional elected leaders who addressed the crowd included Rep. Carl Anderson (D-Georgetown), Rep. Andy Patrick (R- Beaufort), Rep. Mark Willis (R-Laurens), and Rep. Grady Brown (D-Lee). The rally was led by Lisa VanRiper, Secretary of the SC First Steps Board of Trustees.

The rally came on the heels of a unanimous vote by a House Education Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Andy Patrick (R-Beaufort), that moved forward legislation to reauthorize First Steps’ charter beginning July 1, 2014.

First Steps was originally enacted in June of 1999, under the leadership of Governor Jim Hodges and the SC General Assembly. South Carolina was, at the time, the third state in the country to implement a statewide early childhood initiative whose goal is to mobilize communities – parents, schools, businesses, service agencies, the faith community –¬ to ensure all students arrive at school ready to succeed. Each county in South Carolina is served by a local First Steps partnership.

First Steps is a model of private-public success with 46 county partnerships located in every across the state that provide services in six major areas impacting school readiness:

Healthy Start

Family Strengthening

Early Intervention

Quality Childcare

Early Education

School Transition

There are currently 9 centers in the local area participating in the 4K CDEPP program, providing 82 Georgetown children with free 4K at private centers throughout the county. Georgetown First Steps continues to focus on identifying children who may need a extra help with their development through their Early Identification, Resource, and Referral program. If you know a child that is between the ages of birth to four years of age, who may qualify for our programs, please contact 843-520-1830 and we will be happy to connect you to our services.

In 2006, under direction of the State Legislature, First Steps implemented the state’s first dual-delivery, publicly-funded 4K early learning program that provides the state’s needy children with a full-day, state-sponsored early-childhood education experience. First Steps and the SC Department of Education jointly administer the preschool program in 54 school districts in 2014. The program allows parents of qualifying students to make an education choice from among hundreds of First Steps 4K providers and public schools across the state that best meet the needs of their children. SC’s historic 4k program, combined with the school readiness services and programs provided in communities across the state by First Steps and her partners, have contributed to the nearly 52% reduction in first grade retention rates in the state. Those rates are now at an all-time low of 3.8%. Reductions in first grade retention alone save the state over $21M annually.


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