by Melissa Brunner Back in the office after another great session of Leadership Greater Topeka! Friday's session focused on early childhood education and its links to future success and community safety. A big headline was this: A child who is not reading at level by third grade will never catch up. Not only that, but law enforcement experts say they can predict future prison bed space by looking at third grade reading achievement. Those are eye-opening and attention-grabbing statements. The research is bearing out, more than ever, the importance of early childhood education. An infant's brain is like a little sponge. From birth, the brain is making millions of connections that establish the groundwork for future learning. The formation of these connections is stimulated by things like parents reading to children, holding a child and imaginative playtime. As we grow older, the formations of connections slows way down, hence the vital third grade threshhold for reading. As I was hearing the information, though, I grew concerned over use of the word "never" when it came to a child being able to catch up. It concerns me because I would hate for this to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, those who make funding decisions need to know how vital it is to ensure early learning opportunities exist. However, I would hate for a child who is struggling in elementary school to hear these statements, think he or she has no chance to succeed and give up. Rather than say the child will "never" catch up, I would prefer to think that it's possible, but will take a lot of hard work and intervention. I would hate for a teacher or administrator to hear these statements and think it's not worth the time, effort or expense to get extra help and attention for a struggling student - not that they would but hey, if there's no chance the child will catch up, why bother? Again, I don't believe any educator would take that attitude, just pointing out the slippery slope down which we could travel. It's an example of being careful about the messages we might inadvertantly send our children. When we make that list of who is at risk, we must be careful that children who fit those categories also know that they are not finished before they start. We must let them know that resources are available and we must help them find support. The statistics are real, yes, but we can't let any child use them as an excuse - and we can't use them as an excuse, either.