By Mia Lindberg, Ready for School
They say sometimes you just need to talk to a 4-year-old to understand life. For me, this could not be more true. I chose my career path of public health over lunch with a 4-year-old.
My relationship with Ready for School began as a volunteer the summer before my senior year in high school. We worked each day addressing gaps in access to nutrition and early learning opportunities.
My specific contribution was working at a Meet Up and Eat Up site.
Traditionally, these federally funded Summer Food Service Programs give daily meals to children in areas of greatest need. In Holland, we decided to build upon this existing program. Ready for School led a community collaborative incorporating reading and educational activities to fuel children with both food and a love of literacy.
That’s the summer when I had that eye-opening conversation with a 4-year-old. Sitting on striped beach towels laid out in the grass, I joined a group of children taking turns reading to each other. With a grin on her face and nachos in her hand, one young girl turned to me and explained why this was the best part of her day. Between bites, she told me she loved coming since her mother could not feed her at home.
Even now, I feel the weight of that statement.
Growing up in Holland is a very different experience for each child depending on many circumstances far beyond his or her control. I have been blessed to receive adequate nutrition, healthcare, learning materials, and guidance on how to take advantage of the resources in our community.
However, this isn’t true for every child growing up in Ottawa County. I learned at Ready for School how, “Potential is evenly distributed across a population. Opportunity is not.”
Ready for School taught me that high-quality early education sets the course of a child’s life and benefits the community as a whole. This realization led me to pursue a degree in public health to gain the knowledge and skills needed to address similar situations.
Distinguishing kindergarten readiness as a public health necessity unifies multiple sectors to rally around families with young children. Working with the medical, educational, public health, and business communities, Ready for School provides scholarships, a summer kindergarten readiness boot camp, books and learning materials, professional development for early childhood educators, and more.
These combined efforts have increased the measure of school readiness from 49 percent in 2009 to 70 percent in 2019. Yet, 30 percent of our incoming kindergarteners are still in danger of not reaching their full potential.
Three years later, I am back with Ready for School as a summer intern preparing for my junior year at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. I am so grateful to live in a community where our youngest members are valued and supported.
Using my degree in public health, I will follow the lead of Ready for School and its mission to help create systems in which everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential. I will be forever changed by my time serving nachos with a side of literacy.
Mia Lindberg is a junior at the University of Michigan studying Community and Global Public Health. She grew up in Holland and has enjoyed giving back to her community this summer as a research intern at Ready for School.
This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme
Community Knowledge: The collective knowledge and energy of the community is an
incredible resource that must be channeled to where it is needed.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to www.hope.edu/sustainability-institute for more information.