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Opinion: Childhood well-being at the forefront of academic efforts
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Opinion: Childhood well-being at the forefront of academic efforts

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The health and well-being of children has tremendous impact on their physical, psychological, social-emotional, cognitive and language, and economic development. The environments where children play, learn, interact, and live play a critical role in their well-being, as well as their developmental trajectory. This includes aspects like whether they feel safe, have access to green spaces, and the quality of the care they receive.

To understand fully and support the well-being of children, we need to widen our perspective across a broad range of organizations and agencies. We need to truly take a look at the whole child. And the fact that Oklahoma leads the nation in childhood trauma and ill-being creates even more urgency in adopting this approach.

But there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of these statistics.

Studies show that the negative results of childhood trauma and chronic stress can be reversed with protective measures, such as caring adults and positive school environments.

In fact, Oklahoma has been a well-known pioneer in the field of early childhood education. The state was one of the first to implement a Quality Rating and Improvement System and universal Pre-K programs. Tulsa has even earned a national reputation and pride for offering numerous innovative and high-quality early childhood education centers (e.g., Tulsa Educare, CAP Tulsa) and teacher education programs at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.

These programs lay an important foundation to train highly qualified teachers who can support children and their families. However, given the dire status of childhood well-being in Oklahoma, we need to make more collective efforts and build more effective programs and support systems to serve our children better.

Teachers and the community learning more and doing better in supporting children and families have been recurring themes my colleagues and I, at the OU-Tulsa early childhood education program, work to address. We also hear from our students as they experience challenges and obstacles in the classroom and are looking for methods to handle the well-being of their students more holistically. And research continually shows that many teachers do not feel well prepared or equipped to serve children who experience trauma.

So, in response to this urgent need and our own desire to contribute to children’s well-being in Oklahoma, the OU-Tulsa Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education is now offering a master’s degree in childhood well-being. This program, only available in Tulsa, will provide students insight and training in the areas of education, health, family and community, and economic well-being of children. Skills will be valuable to a range of professions including child and family advocates, education practitioners, policymakers, public officials and concerned citizens, and allow them to focus on the needs of children and families, particularly those who are vulnerable and at risk for poor outcomes.

The needs of children in Oklahoma are great. So many of them approach adulthood having dealt with significant trauma and stress, and with few advantages. However, through research, we are learning more about how to counteract these statistics and how to support families and children to reduce some of the impact. But this will only be achieved through working together with a wide variety of academic and research perspectives to consider all aspects of childhood well-being. Our children deserve our very best.

Kyong-Ah Kwon, Ph.D., is an associate professor in early childhood education at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.


Featured video:

Wayne Greene reads the April 4 Tulsa World editorial.

Kyong-Ah Kwon, Ph.D., is an associate professor in early childhood education at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.

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