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Hoyer joins others to celebrate success of Judy Centers

Honoring the legacy of his late wife while recognizing the public-private partnerships that helped establish Judy Centers throughout Maryland, U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) joined more than 50 community officials and friends for a Judith P. Hoyer Foundation celebration luncheon June 27 at Martin’s Crosswinds in Greenbelt.

Judith P. Hoyer Early Child Care and Family Education Centers, or Judy Centers, are named after the late Judith P. Hoyer, an early childhood advocate and supervisor of early childhood education for Prince George’s County Public Schools. In 1993, with the opening of the Early Childhood and Family Learning Center in Adelphi, Judy brought to life an innovative vision for housing educational and other community services in one building. This unique approach provided collaboration among specialists in various programs to better serve children and their families, according to a fact sheet from the Maryland State Department of Education website.

Former Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick, who attended college with Hoyer’s wife, said the Judy Centers are worth investing in especially because of its sustainability and dedication to improving the lives of young children, who are often at-risk, and their families.

“I attended college with Judy Hoyer and we were a real minority group believing in early childhood, not defining it as only kindergarten but below that,” Grasmick said. “Judy Hoyer made her mark in Prince George’s County in creating this early childhood center and having the integration of all the supporting services whether they were human resources, social services, health, GED training for young parents who didn’t have a high school diploma. She made it a reality and as people saw that reality, there was this hunger and thirst to replicate it in other parts of the state.”

After Hoyer’s death in 1997, Judy Centers began opening across the state with state grant funds provided by the Maryland State Department of Education to carry out her legacy. Judy Centers are unique because they provide access to early childhood education and family support programs located at or near Title I schools. Typically, education opportunities and support services are available seven to 12 hours a day, year round, the fact sheet also noted.

There is a Judy Center at Patuxent-Appeal Elementary in Lusby, said Cathy Page, public information officer for Calvert County Public Schools.

“We have followed the success of this because because the question is always, ‘What are the outcomes?’ And people thought that, ‘Oh it’s great while these children are young but it won’t be sustained,” Grasmick said. “These children who participate in Judy Centers, who are often the most at-risk children, it is sustained through third grade and on to fifth grade. We have evidence of that and it’s the best investment we can make.”

In addition, the centers help increase the number of children entering school ready to learn by promoting school readiness through collaboration with community-based agencies, organizations and businesses.

Libby Doggett, deputy assistant secretary for policy and early learning at the U.S. Department of Education, said of all the states that have outstanding early education, Maryland is the first to come to mind because of high-quality programs like the Judy Centers.

“I think Maryland has gotten it right,” Doggett said. “I didn’t know Judy but I knew of her and her reputation and I think the Judy Centers is just an embodiment of what is important—it’s early childhood and family engagement. If you get kids off to a good start, they’re going to do great in the K-12 system.”

Judy Center programs foster young children’s physical, social, linguistic and cognitive abilities — skills that help children become accomplished learners and students. An important requirement of Judy Centers is that all early childhood education programs must meet national or state standards of high quality, the fact sheet noted.

“[Judith] was a really unique person. She had this dedication to children, which was evident, but she also began to look at the root causes,” said Grasmick. “She looked at the structure of the families, she looked at what the community could offer and she saw the potential of integrating all of this which really didn’t exist anywhere else. She took that leap of faith and people were amazed at the success of it.”

All early childhood staff participates in extensive staff development activities. Working with children birth to 3 years of age also allows Judy Centers to identify children with developmental delays or other special needs. This is extremely important because early intervention can give a child and his family the services and support necessary to ensure that by the time the child enters school, they can develop to his or her potential, according to the fact sheet.

Each Judy Center staff person is trained to know and understand the available services that can be delivered by the agencies, organizations and businesses in their community. They not only connect families to the appropriate community partners when needs are identified, but follow the families’ progress and ensure they are receiving and responding to the services as well.

“Judy Center staff work very hard every day,” State Department of Education Early Education and Judy Center Partnership Specialist Cheryl DeAtley said. “We are advocating for children and families faced with the most challenging of situations. The staff are committed, effective and resilient.”

With 52 Judy Centers serving approximately 12,000 young children who live in 39 elementary school zones across Maryland, DeAtley said there’s no room for a program that’s mediocre. That’s why the centers are monitored on a regular basis and are required to meet 12 component standards. They must also integrate at least five community partners — including Head Start, family support centers, healthy families, public libraries, child care resource centers and early childhood programs associated with colleges or universities — into their activities, according to the fact sheet.

“The MSDE role is to ensure all 52 Judy Centers are effective,” DeAtley said. “Having an engaged partnership that meets frequently is key to the delivery of the services. Our strength lies in the diversity of the educational and experiential backgrounds of the staff.”

Today, the programs and activities offered through the Judy Centers, which were written into Maryland law in May 2000, reflect his late wife’s vision of how professionals must collaborate to integrate a wide spectrum of early childhood education programs and family support services, Hoyer said.

 “Our job is to care about all of us. We’re in this together,” Hoyer said. “Judy was committed to this work not only because she wanted to make certain that children are well prepared to learn in elementary school, but because she also believed, very strongly, that children who are cared about grow up to be adults who, in turn, care about others and help build stronger communities.”