Going from the top to rock bottom can happen in the blink of an eye. Or, the break of a leg.
At the 2009 International Skating Union World Cup in Sofia, Bulgaria, I was making a final pass to win the world championship. My teammate collided with me and I flew into the sideboards at 40 mph, and shattered my right leg and ankle.
The first doctor who examined me estimated that it might be three years before I would skate again—if I ever did.
I faced a tremendous challenge. But I was prepared. From a very early age, and throughout my life, my parents and coaches taught me resilience, patience, emotional control, and teamwork. Today, these traits are part of a group of abilities known as "executive-functioning skills," and they're skills that our youngest learners can discover through high-quality early education.
High-quality early care and education programs help children develop and grow in terms of social-emotional skills, behavioral skills, and more traditional academic skills like early math and reading. Research supports the idea of just how important learning these skills at a young age can be.
A recent report by Champions for America's Future highlighted that students in high-quality early childhood programs can achieve a wide variety of positive outcomes. These benefits include better language development as early as age 2, higher test scores, lower rates of being held back in school, and more advanced math and reading levels.
That's especially important because of the unique brain development that occurs during the first few years of life. Over a million new neural connections form in a child's brain every second during that time. Investments in quality early learning and care are so vital because of both results and timing.
Research also shows how much these programs can affect social-emotional learning. A study highlighted in that same report showed that children with strong social-emotional skills in kindergarten were more likely to graduate from high school, attain a college degree, and hold a full-time job by age 25.
High-quality early care and education programs help develop these skills. They teach things like taking turns, sharing, and resolving conflicts, abilities that boost social-emotional skills and form the foundation of executive-functioning skills later in life.
When I faced the daunting task of battling through this injury, I know that learning perseverance, discipline, persistence, and belief in myself from a young age absolutely made a critical difference. Because of that, I put my skates back on — and I won an Olympic bronze medal.
None of that would've been attainable without lessons and skills ingrained in me from a young age.
It's so important that as many children as possible have access to these types of programs. I'm pleased that Congress included an agreement to increase funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant by $5.8 billion over the next two years. CCDBG helps working families access child care and helps improve the quality of these services. I'm also pleased that Gov. Wolf has again prioritized access to high-quality early learning programs for thousands more young children in Pennsylvania as part of his budget proposal.
Congress and the Pennsylvania legislature must follow through on these promises of increased funding and continue prioritizing high-quality early care and education programs in the current and upcoming fiscal years. Programs like CCDBG as well as Head Start and state pre-K supported by both federal Preschool Development Grants and by state funding can help provide the pre-math, pre-reading and important social-emotional skills necessary to give all children the opportunity to reach their full potential.