Exercise and Sports Set the Table For Life


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One of us is a successful insurance professional and former professional basketball player. The other is the Executive Director of the United States Tennis Association Pacific Northwest. Despite our different professions, we have something important in common: After-school physical activity helped put both of us on a path to success. Both of us also have a deep commitment to volunteerism and a concern with physical and mental health for children.

We love sports and athletics, which undoubtedly helped us on and off the court. We each went on to careers that involved sports, with the Portland Trailblazers and the USTA, respectively. But our key to success was having positive role models — parents, teachers, coaches and community members who believed in physical activity. This allowed us to begin playing and exercising at an early age.

Another key was that we had the opportunity to participate in sports at a young age. Physical activity helps young people learn discipline, focus, the value of hard work, cooperation and team-based concepts, all while embracing healthy habits and physical fitness.

Learning positive habits that lead to wellness is especially important now, at a time when close to one-third of children in the United States are considered overweight or obese. In addition, nearly three-quarters of American youth don’t get the 60 minutes of daily physical activity that health experts recommend. Research highlighted by the sports-leader network Champions for America’s Future explains that one in every 10 premature deaths in the United States is the result of inactivity, due to health issues such as heart disease, certain types of cancer and diabetes.

In order to address these disturbing facts, we need kids to embrace positive habits. Making physical activity part of their regular routine is a start, and getting young people to understand the wide range of benefits that physical activity provides can help cement its importance in their lives. We understand those benefits first-hand.

That’s why we believe so strongly in after-school and summer programs that teach kids the joy of physical activity and lessons that go beyond athletics. High-quality, out-of-school programs keep kids supervised, safe and engaged in meaningful activities while promoting health and wellness, physical activity and more.

With this in mind, the USTA Pacific Northwest provides fun, inclusive and affordable tennis programs that foster healthy and active lifestyles for kids, families and adults. These programs take place in public parks and school gyms, and scholarships are available to make programs accessible to everyone; more information can be found at rectennis.com.

The USTA is also hosting the quarterfinal round of Davis Cup, the world’s largest annual international sporting event, in Beaverton. The festivities will include a “Family Fun Fair” at 4 p.m. July 11 at the Tualatin Hills Tennis Center; kids and families are encouraged to attend this free event.

After-school and summer programs based around physical activity can help kids learn positive habits that will last a lifetime. These activities will allow kids to embrace lifelong friendships and healthy competition. The two of us can tell you that competitive greatness, both on and off the court, begins by embracing physical fitness early in life. An investment in these programs is an investment in our children’s future health and well-being.

Matthew Warren is the Executive Director of the United States Tennis Association Pacific Northwest; Michael Harper of Southwest Portland is a former Portland Trail Blazer

Race for the Gold in Academic Excellence: World Champion Athletes Stress the Importance of High Quality Early Learning in America


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In Conjunction with the Congressional Pre-K CaucusScreen Shot 2016-06-09 at 11.33.49 AM


Please Join Us for a Congressional Briefing:

Race for the Gold in Academic Excellence

World champion athletes stress the importance of

high-quality early education in America


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

9:30am -11:00am

US House of Representatives

2358-C Rayburn House Office Building

RSVP to [email protected]


Join Olympians and Paralympians for a timely discussion and the release of our new report on turning our nation’s enthusiasm for sports medals into dialogue on an even bigger outcome: our investments in education.


Gigi Fernandez, Olympic Gold Medalist, Tennis

Dick Fosbury, Olympic Gold Medalist, Track & Field

April Holmes, Paralympic Gold Medalist, Track & Field

Angela Hucles, Olympic Gold Medalist, Soccer

Moderated by:

Steve Mesler, Olympic Gold Medalist, Bobsled and Founder, Classroom Champions


As accomplished athletes and coaches—and as Americans—we are proud of our nation’s finish atop the medal table at the 2012 Olympics. But, in our roles as parents and advocates, we are concerned that our nation’s children rank just 35th in math internationally.


Join us for a discussion on the importance of making high-quality early education available to children who are disadvantaged so America’s future generations can win and prosper.


Seating is limited and will be on a first-come basis. Please RSVP to Maria Randazzo at [email protected]

Heisman Trophy Winner: Physical Education Saved My Life


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Originally Published by Education Week

By Herschel Walker

at Thursday, April 7, 2016

My father gave me a quarter every day before school when I was little so that I could buy myself a snack.

But I wouldn’t buy a snack. Instead, I gave the quarter to a classmate, just to get someone to talk to me without calling me “dumb” or “weird” or “fat.”

I was a chubby kid with no confidence. I was bullied, called names, and beaten up. I barely spoke because of my stutter. Teachers would put me in a corner and tell me I was “special.” I was scared to death of everybody.

My saving grace was physical education.

Physical activity became my refuge. Being active was a healthy way to channel my frustration and insecurities.

Physical education gave me so much: focus, purpose, hope. Those elements helped turn that scared little boy into an accomplished athlete, a valedictorian, and the successful businessman I am today.

Without physical education, I wouldn’t have learned many of the skills that improved my life both on and off the football field. These skills remain with me, fueling my advocacy for all children to reap the same benefits from physical education that I did.

P.E. can help children who face many different challenges in and out of school. It can benefit kids of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds.

That’s why I’ve been a proud champion for physical education for more than 15 years. I believe that physical education can be a catalyst for positive change in a child’s life, just as it was in mine. Research shows that quality physical education can help build health, confidence, and better academic outcomes. Quality P.E. teaches physical-literacy skills and healthy habits that last a lifetime.

Yet, despite being in the midst of a full-blown inactivity epidemic, our country isn’t embracing physical education.

How bad is this epidemic? Nearly three-fourths of American youths aren’t getting the 60 minutes of daily physical activity recommended by health experts.

The results are deadly. Research reported by the sports-leader group Champions for America’s Future, of which I am a member, shows that one in every 10 premature deaths in the United States is the result of inactivity, owing to ailments that include heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

Problems related to inactivity also contribute to the fact that seven out of 10 young adults can’t qualify for military service in this country. In addition, a lack of physical activity costs our economy an estimated $117 billion annually.

Physical education can help fight those results. Getting children to embrace healthy habits makes a difference. Research indicates that the longer kids stay active during childhood, the more likely they are to be active when they’re adults. In fact, young people who are active throughout adolescence are roughly seven to 13 times more likely to remain active as adults.

Disappointingly, physical education has become harder to find in school settings over the past decade. According to a 2014 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of schools that require students to take physical education for graduation or promotion to the next grade level declined from 96 percent in 2000 to 77 percent in 2014.

We need to reverse this trend and teach these lifelong skills.

We need to commit adequate resources and class time to P.E. We need to maintain appropriate teacher-student ratios. We need to foster high-quality instruction that teaches children how to enjoy living active lives, not merely how to play certain sports.

The benefits of making that investment will travel beyond the gymnasium and into the classroom: Studies have shown that physical activity can improve academic performance and mental health.

One study found that an after-school program providing an hour or two of physical activity significantly improved participating children’s working memory, a key component of learning, reasoning, and comprehension. Another study showed that incorporating 20 minutes of physical activity into the school day significantly improved test scores in reading, math, and spelling.

The case for investing in P.E. is compelling, and Congress has the perfect opportunity to take action very soon when lawmakers craft a bill for federal spending for the upcoming fiscal year. The recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act, an education law that promotes academic opportunity for all children, authorized a $1.6 billion grant program to support a variety of services, including physical education programs.

This is the year for Congress to seize the moment to recognize the important, positive impacts physical education has on health and academic performance. Congress should fully fund and embrace the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program to support vital programs like P.E.

This funding is crucial for making P.E. possible in more communities across the nation, especially because, according to one survey, the average physical education program receives only $764 per year from the school budget.

If we want to give children a path to better health and improved academic outcomes, while also pushing back against the inactivity epidemic, we need to invest in quality physical education. It can change the life of a young person.

How do I know it can change lives?

Because it saved mine.


Herschel Walker is the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner and played for the National Football League from 1986 to 1997. He is a member of Champions for America’s Future, a national network of athletes and coaches that supports policy investments to improve educational and other opportunities for students.


Midlands Voices: Early Childhood Opportunities Keep Kids In The Game


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Originally published by The Omaha Daily Herald

by Trev Alberts and Kyle Peterson

at Thursday, April 7, 2016

Alberts is the director of athletics for the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Peterson is president and CEO-Nebraska of Colliers International and a college baseball analyst for ESPN.



An important lesson we learned in our sports careers was that falling behind is a tough obstacle to overcome.

Our frame of reference was playing football for the University of Nebraska and the Indianapolis Colts, and baseball for Stanford University and the Milwaukee Brewers. But this concept applies to sports at all levels.

Falling behind in school is the same thing.

It is a tough obstacle to overcome. And kids that don’t have access to high-quality early childhood experiences to be prepared for kindergarten are most at-risk of falling behind and staying behind.

Those stakes, however, are much higher than the outcome of a single baseball or football game.

Without the benefit of quality early learning experiences beginning in the infant and toddler years, children’s math and literacy skills can be up to 18 months behind by the time they start kindergarten.

And just as early advantages in cognition and character skills are cumulative, so are the early disadvantages.

Fortunately, Nebraska is making progress in expanding quality early childhood opportunities that will help lead to higher rates of high school graduation, college attendance and employment, and a lifelong culture of health.

According to the Buffett Institute/Gallup survey recently released by the University of Nebraska’s Buffett Early Childhood Institute, 68 percent of Nebraskans understand that early care and education has a significant impact on the long-term success of students.

Furthermore, the vast majority of our citizens believe the state should make early education a higher priority so that kids are prepared to be successful in life.

As members of Champions for America’s Future, a national network of sports leaders championing proven public-private investments in young children to create a stronger, healthier America, we recognize that opportunities for quality early learning are important for all kids and encourage investments that will help get all children “off the bench” and into the game of life.

With approximately 64,000 kids between birth and age 5 at-risk of starting behind and staying behind in school in our state, we are encouraged that Nebraskans understand the importance of being champions for early childhood.

After-School Programs Worth the Investment


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New Santa Ynez Pool Benefits Schoolchildren’s Health and Safety; State Can Do More

Gary Hall Jr. (center) and Kenneth Kahn (right), Chumash vice chair, announce the new pool being built at Santa Ynez high school.

Gary Hall Jr. (center) and Kenneth Kahn (right), Chumash vice chair, announce the new pool being built at Santa Ynez high school.

Originally published by The Santa Barbara Independent


at Wednesday, March 30, 2016

When I think back to my elementary school days, I recall how eagerly I waited for the final school bell to ring. I couldn’t wait to get outside and play with friends.

By the time that I got to high school, my hours before and after school were spent in the pool, training hard for weekend competitions, and then state championships, and so on. It was hard work, a healthy and fun way to expel teenage energy and frustrations, making it easier for me to focus on academics in class, while giving me something to look forward to after school.

My love for sport is why I’m working diligently to ensure all students in Santa Barbara County who want access to aquatics programming, have it. As part of the Santa Ynez Valley Community Aquatics Foundation, I’m working in partnership with the Chumash Tribe, to create a Healthy Cities Initiative Health &Wellness Program to create an on-site, state-of-the-art Sports Science Institute, which will include a new swimming pool, replacing the local pool built in 1965. The project is supported by the cities of Buellton and Solvang, the Santa Ynez Valley High School, and the Chumash Tribe. The pool will be on the Santa Ynez Valley High School campus and will operate under a “joint use” agreement, which will allow community access to the school property and sports facilities.

A partnership between the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) and the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) also offers school-aged students access to swim lessons via the Swim to College program. Every year, all 3rd graders enrolled in the district’s state-funded after-school program receive eight free swim lessons from student athletes at UCSB. The kids receive free swimsuits, goggles, and swim caps, and they are taught how to tread water, float on their back, and swim 25 yards. On the ninth and final day, they tour the UCSB campus and get to experience campus life.

Both programs help promote water safety, health, and wellness for life. Many participating students come from families who can’t afford swim lessons, which provides a life-saving skill when you live in a coastal community like ours. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is second only to motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of unintentional injury death among children under 14.

Keeping kids moving after school will also go a long way toward preventing obesity and type 2 diabetes. In California and across the U.S., over one-third of children and adolescents are considered overweight or obese. According to the latestFITNESSGRAM physical fitness tests in California, only 26.4 percent of fifth graders and 32.5 percent of seventh graders scored in the Healthy Fitness Zone for all measurements that help define a level of fitness that offers protection against diseases resulting from sedentary living.

To do away with our culture of inactivity and promote a culture of health, we need to encourage children to make physical activities a part of their regular routine, just like washing their hands and brushing their teeth. We need more programs like Swim to College to provide safe spaces for kids to exercise and play in the hours after school.

The State of California has an opportunity to help. In 2002, Californians voters made a commitment to after-school programs by approving Proposition 49, which supports over 4,000 programs statewide and 400,000 elementary and middle-school students each day — including 43 programs serving over 3,300 students daily here in Santa Barbara County — through the After School Education and Safety (ASES) program. Unfortunately, ASESfunding has remained static for a decade, despite several increases in the minimum wage and a 19 percent increase in the cost of living. As a result, many programs have been forced to cut back on their after-school activities or they risk being forced eventually to close altogether.

Raising the daily funding rate for ASES by one dollar — from $7.50 to $8.50 per student — would help offset costs associated with the minimum wage and the overall cost of living. Funding at this level would require an increase of $73 million the FY 2016-17 state budget.

After-school programs are win-win for parents, their children, our health-care system, and society as a whole. They offer working parents essential child care, which alleviates stress and maintains productivity in the workplace. Programs keep kids supervised, safe, and engaged in meaningful academic activities while promoting avenues for STEM [science, technology, engineering, math)]education, career exploration, health and wellness, physical activity, and sport. High-quality after-school programs have been linked to improved student attendance, behavior and academic performance in school as well.

Increasing funding levels for ASES should be a top priority. Shorting kids the opportunity to be physically active, healthy and happy is woefully short-sighted. I hope the governor and the State Legislature will agree.

Gary Hall, Jr. is an American swimmer who represented the United States in the 1996, 2000, and 2004 Olympics and won 10 Olympic medals (five gold, three silver, two bronze). He currently resides in Santa Barbara County.

TSU track coach, Olympic gold medalist promotes physical education


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Originally published by WKRN-Nashville

by WKRN web staff

at March 24, 2016

LA VERGNE, Tenn. (WKRN) – She’s Tennessee State University’s track and field coach, and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and on Thursday she was speaking to the importance of keeping physical education in schools.

Olympian Chandra Cheeseborough-guice and several other coaches and athletes were at La Vergne Park Elementary promoting a physical education bill making its way through the legislature.

“I believe that academics and physical activity go hand in hand. It helps you know the body, the mind, so it’s all in one,” Cheeseborough-guice told News. “So we definitely need to bring that back to the classroom.”

“We are here today to bring awareness to the Thom Cronin Physical Education Act, said Andrea Burton, executive director of the Tennessee Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance

“It’s a bill we are trying to get passed to emphasize how important physical education is and that it be taught by a licensed physical education teacher,” Burton explained.

Thursday’s event also supported a bill sponsored by Senator Jim Tracy that would require an annual assessment of physical education in Tennessee schools.

TSU Track and Field Volunteers at LaVergne Lake Elementary

Originally published by TSU Tigers14027L

by TSU staff

at March 24, 2016

LaVERGNE, Tenn. – Tennessee State University Director of Track and Field Chandra Cheeseborough-Guice, junior Amber Hughesand senior Shaquille Cragwall spent Thursday morning volunteering with the physical education class at LaVergne Lake Elementary School.

Today’s event was coordinated by Champions for America’s Future to promote the health and academic benefits to quality physical education in Tennessee.

“We were excited to be invited by Champions for America’s Future,” Cheeseborough-Guice said. “The students are having a lot of fun, and it’s important to keep it in the curriculum. Our student-athletes had a lot of fun, and we were just excited to be invited to come out today.”

Hughes and Cragwall joined in with the physical education class activity, which featured a game that included math skills as well as physical activity such as jumping jacks and sit ups.

Following the class, Cheeseborough-Guice was one of the speakers who addressed the media about the importance of physical education classes in the curriculum in elementary schools in Tennessee.

“Being here at the elementary school, it was a great experience to interact with the children,” Hughes said. “There was so much going on in the class that you didn’t realize how much exercise you were getting. I think this is a great way to help kids be active and also have a great time.”

“It was great seeing the kids interact, and they were learning at the same time,” Cragwall said. “It was a great experience. The kids were really excited to compete against us and try to beat us. It was a lot of fun.”


Advocates Urge Greater Emphasis on Fitness in Schools


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Pictures by SAUL YOUNG

Pictures by SAUL YOUNG

Originally published by Knoxville News Sentinel

by John Shearer

at Dec 8th, 2015

OAK RIDGE — Spotting the 6-foot-2 Women’s National Basketball Association and former Tennessee Lady Vol basketball star Tamika Catchings doing some dribbling drills with first-graders in the Woodland Elementary School gym Tuesday morning was easy.

But figuring out whether she or the group of nearly 20 youngsters half her height was having more fun was a little more challenging.

“I can say without hesitation that physical activity and physical education have been tremendously important in my life,” she said after running around with the children in Jeremy Carringer’s class for nearly 30 minutes.

The longtime star of the Indiana Fever and member of the 1997-98 national championship team at Tennessee under coach Pat Summitt said sports helped her overcome self-consciousness over her hearing and speech problems as a child.

She also hoped her participation in Tuesday’s event announcing two major developments related to physical fitness would help people hear more clearly the call to have physical education a required part of school curriculums.

She was on hand along with retired UT athletics director Joan Cronan and other youth sports fitness advocates to announce the release of a youth fitness study and to say a state physical education bill will be introduced next year.

Pictures by SAUL YOUNG

Pictures by SAUL YOUNG

The bill, if passed, would require that every Tennessee student from kindergarten through fifth grade take at least two gym classes during a regular school week.

The bill, to be introduced by state Rep. Roger Kane, R-Karns, is being called the Tom Cronan Physical Education Act in honor of Cronan’s husband, who was an exercise physiology professor at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City.

“Like me, Tom was an advocate for living an active lifestyle and promoting fitness, particularly in children,” said Cronan, who said she played three competitive sports as a youth before her college coaching and sports administration career.

Catchings enthusiastically endorsed the bill.

“The bill could make a difference in our Tennessee youth,” she said, saying 60 percent of high school students in Tennessee don’t get any physical education during the school week.

Pictures by SAUL YOUNG

Pictures by SAUL YOUNG

Representatives of the Champions for America’s Future organization also released a study that concluded gym helps youngsters learn how to be active for life and that it can also help them compete better in the classroom.

Burton said Tennessee is one of only eight states in the country that does not require gym class in elementary school. Costanza noted studies show regular physical activity lowers the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and some cancers.

The Early Education Movement in Michigan Isn’t Done Yet.


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at OCT 14, 2015

Shortly before 10 a.m., the tall strangers in business suits arrive for their tour.

“Morning,” says Denise Brown, who is not a stranger, and not in a suit. She leads this early childhood program at Campus Elementary in Grand Rapids. She’s today’s tour guide for the tall strangers in suits.

“Wow, I’m overwhelmed with 20 of you,” Brown says.

Two years ago, the state of Michigan made a major new investment in preschool. Since then, state funding to help four year olds attend preschool has more than doubled. About 14,000 more children now have access to preschool.

Many of the tall strangers on this tour were deeply involved in making that investment happen. But they’re not done yet. And today’s event is, ultimately, about keeping the movement going.

They step into one of the site’s six classrooms, with a diverse group of preschoolers gathered on a blue rug, singing a song. It goes:

“Lets sing hello, hello, hello …”

The tall strangers watch and smile. This is for them, the best part of the day. This, they will say later, is what it’s all about.

Later, in a conference room, one shelf lined with bagels and coffee, and at the other end of the room, a podium. A podium where one of the tall strangers in a suit, Judi Brown Clarke, talks about the need to give children an early start on education. An early start on a positive self image. An early start on a path toward graduation.

“So anything we can do,” she says, “we stand ready.”

Brown Clarke is a member of the Lansing City Council. She’s also a former Olympian, and what one of the organizers of this event calls an “unexpected messenger” to build the case for investments in the state’s youngest children.

Another unexpected messenger: a retired general, Tom Cutler, who once led Michigan’s National Guard, and who was a wing commander at Selfridge Air National Guard base, where he says recruiting was a huge challenge.

“And guess what the barriers to recruiting often were?” he says to the group. “Education. Physical fitness. Problems with crime in their past … 71 percent of young people really can’t even qualify to entertain having a life in the military.”

Decades of research into the benefits of early childhood education show how it leads to better health, less crime and higher academic achievement later in life.

That’s the message this group is working to send, to convince political leaders to invest more in programs to help the youngest children.

And they’ve been successful. Here in Michigan, funding for preschool has gone up by $140 million in the past two years. Thousands of families that couldn’t afford preschool before now, can.

“Yes we were successful in getting more funding for four-year-old pre-K,” says Matt Gillard of Michigan’s Children. “But the research, and everything indicates that there’s a lot more to do around early childhood than just four-year-old pre-K.”

I caught up with Matt Gillard, president of a group called Michigan’s Children, after the meeting

“You guys fought for extra funding for preschool,” I said. “You won. So why are you still talking about it?

“Well, because there’s much more to do,” Gillard said. “I mean, yes we were successful in getting more funding for four-year-old pre-K, but the research, and everything indicates that there’s a lot more to do around early childhood than just four-year-old pre-K, especially with the kids facing the most barriers, and from the most vulnerable situations. And so there’s a lot more that other states are doing. There’s a lot of success out there. There’s a lot communities are doing. And I think there’s a lot more work to be done in Lansing, and by our state legislature if we really want to make Michigan the best place to raise a child.”

Gillard, and the other adults in suits, are well-aware of the challenges they face while legislators consider other budget priorities – the push for more road funding is one example.

But preschool’s supporters heard those counter-arguments before. They won funding for four year olds. Now they want to win funding for programs that serve kids age zero to three.

COMMENTARY: Kids Need to Learn Life Skills


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(Photo: Craeg Photography)

(Photo: Craeg Photography)

Originally published in the Courier-Post 


at 2:57 p.m. EDT October 13, 2015

One of us is a Paralympic gold medalist in the 100-meter dash who grew up near Camden. The other is an Olympic gold medalist in bobsled from Buffalo. The obvious connection between us is athletics. The subtler link is that we were both raised not only with a strong work ethic, but also within an environment that fostered social skills and emotional stability.

Those values are a major reason we work with Classroom Champions, a program that’s expanding in Camden and Philadelphia that creates virtual mentorship relationships between Olympians and Paralympians and underserved schools across the country. Connecting an athlete’s message with a kid who may not have the same advantages we did can make a major difference in that child’s life.

We’re two of the lucky ones. But a lot of kids — including many of the students in the schools Classroom Champions works with — face problems throughout life that are a byproduct of deficits in social-emotional learning.

It’s easy to take for granted that children will learn how to socialize properly. People often assume that kids naturally understand how to cope with the full range of emotions that life has to offer. The reality is that learning those skills doesn’t come easy for a lot of children.

Both of us had adults in our lives from a young age who helped us cultivate healthy relationships and learn how to behave properly around other people. Many children don’t have that kind of guiding influence. They end up facing problems throughout life that are a byproduct of deficits in social-emotional learning.

Social-emotional learning is an educational approach focusing on life skills that will help students become well-adjusted adults. Social-emotional learning helps teach kids basic concepts like taking turns, managing emotions, making sound decisions, resisting negative peer pressure and working well in groups.

Research highlighted by the sports leader group Champions for America’s Future reflects just how crucial social-emotional learning development can be: In a study that began two decades ago as part of the Fast Track Project in central Pennsylvania, Nashville, Durham and Seattle, teachers assessed students’ “social competence,” based on social-emotional learning-related criteria such as cooperation with peers and understanding others’ feelings.

The final results of the study came in earlier this year, and they are remarkable: A child’s social-emotional development level upon entering kindergarten can predict with significant accuracy a host of life outcomes by age 25. Those outcomes include whether the child will need special-education services, graduate from high school on time, live in public housing, ever receive public assistance, ever be arrested, ever stay in a detention facility or have stable employment.

Those life-altering possibilities, ranging from education to crime to public assistance to career prospects, speak to the importance of social-emotional learning .

One particularly stunning revelation from the study is that kindergartners who scored well on teachers’ assessments of their social skills were twice as likely to graduate from college than children who scored poorly.

What these results tell us is that a foundation for lifelong success must be laid in the first years. That’s why we need to invest in quality early-childhood and middle-childhood programs that stress social-emotional learning.

Both of us are fortunate enough to work with children on a regular basis through our foundations. Many of these children face unique challenges in life. We see the tangible benefits of social-emotional learning firsthand, particularly for children in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Yet so much social-emotional development occurs — or doesn’t — before kids reach kindergarten that making sure our youngest learners get social-emotional learning-focused instruction is especially critical. Early-childhood education programs can help kids become productive members of society, while also fostering a lifelong culture of health.

We should make a commitment to teach social-emotional learning skills in preschool, as well as maintaining that commitment into elementary and middle school. Investing in quality early-childhood and middle-childhood programs with an emphasis on social-emotional learning should be a goal for everyone who wants to give all children the best chance to become stable, educated and ambitious adults.

April Holmes is a Paralympic gold medalist in track and field, Classroom Champions mentor and member of Champions for America’s Future. Steve Mesler is an Olympic gold medalist in bobsled, co-founder, president and CEO of Classroom Champions and member of Champions for America’s Future.

Shannon Boxx on Unexpected Messengers for Early Childhood Panel


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Champions for America’s Future member and World Cup and Olympic soccer champion Shannon Boxx participated in the featured “Unexpected Messengers for Early Childhood” panel at the 2015 ReadyNation Global Business Summit for Early Childhood Investments.  Ms. Boxx discussed the importance of early childhood advocacy from her perspective as a sports leader.  The panel featured a prominent member from the Council for a Strong America’s (CSA) five organizations.  Each of the five panelists offered a unique point-of-view on how to advocate effectively for investments in early childhood.

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