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ETSU student travels to Capitol Hill to advocate for early childhood education

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Apr 5, 2019 at 8:42 PM

A member of the East Tennessee State University community traveled to Capitol Hill Tuesday to join more than 200 advocates urging the nation’s lawmakers to make investments in early childhood care and provide humanitarian support for children abroad.

Ashleigh Stocton, a master’s student in early childhood education and a graduate assistant for the Center for Early Childhood Learning and Development, joined the group as part of Save the Children Action Network’s annual Advocacy Summit in Washington.

There, Stocton met lawmakers like Republican Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Lamar Alexander, as well as their staffs, to urge support for the Childcare Workforce and Facilities Act, sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.

Stocton and others also spoke to the staff for U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st.

“What we were doing was trying to let them know that early childhood programs are crucial for healthy development for young children, and it’s also critical for parents to be able to maintain steady employment,” she said.

Stocton said providing early childhood care is an important issue both in Tennessee and throughout the nation. In the U.S., 51 percent of Americans live in what is called a “childcare desert,” meaning there are three children for every available early childcare spot available.

In Tennessee, 48 percent of children live in such places, and the need for early childhood care first became apparent to Stocton when she was working in the field in Carter County.

“When I worked there before graduate school, there were six licensed centers that served infants through pre-school, and in the three years I was working there, three of those were shut down,” she said.

“After working with young children for almost 14 years and seeing the need for more support for children and educators in early childhood education, I knew I wanted to do something more to make a difference,” she said later of her decision to get involved in children’s advocacy last year.

But protecting child care and early childhood education isn’t just an American issue, which is why Stocton joined others in urging lawmakers to support a resolution by Reps. Nita Lowey, D-New York, and Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, to protect education for children living in conflict.

According to United Nations statistics from 2017, 27 million children were out of schools in 24 conflict-affected countries, where there were more than 1,400 attacks on schools. In addition, 4 million refugee children are out of school.

In places like South Sudan alone, a third of the schools were damaged, destroyed or occupied.

“Schools should be a place for children to go and feel safe, and they’re not able to do that,” she said. “It's up to us to speak for them and to advocate for them.”

When in Washington, Stocton said she was inspired to continue children’s advocacy after meeting U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass.

“He said that we have the chance to change the country’s policies and make a difference. Coming from him and his family lineage in politics was very inspiring to hear,” she said.

For more information on Save the Children Action Network, or to get involved, visit www.savethechildrenactionnetwork.org.

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