New documentary highlights Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program

New documentary highlights Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A documentary detailing the importance of high-quality early education for children’s development premieres today and highlights Alabama’s nationally recognized pre-K program as a model for the rest of the U.S.

Starting at Zero: Reimagining Education in America” features interviews with many of Alabama’s early childhood education leaders, including Gov. Kay Ivey.

“It is a great source of pride for Alabama that our state has been recognized for offering the nation’s top pre-k program fourteen years in a row,” said Ivey in a press release. “Study after study shows the extraordinary importance of the first five years of life in a child’s development. We have the finest educators in the country working to ensure every Alabama child has access to high-quality early childhood education opportunities. This film is a must-watch for anyone with an interest in the future of our state and nation.”

Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program was ranked the nation’s highest quality state program for the 14th consecutive year in May by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Ivey announced the addition of 55 new classrooms in 25 counties in May. The new classrooms expand access to 22,500 children in 2020-2021 with more than 1,250 classrooms statewide. The program now reaches about 38% of the state’s 4 year olds.

The film explores the power of investing in high-quality early childhood education and what makes programs like Alabama’s so successful.

Jeana Ross, who led the Department of Early Childhood Education for eight years before retiring in June, told Alabama Daily News that the impetus for the film project came from a chance meeting with Elliot Steinberg, executive director of the Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation, at Harvard University in 2017.

“I introduced myself and told him I was from Alabama. He immediately said, ‘Alabama. You aren’t telling your story!'” Ross said. “I invited him to come visit and within weeks he was in Alabama touring First Class Pre-K classrooms. He was so impressed and wanted to share what we were doing and the idea of a ‘how to’ video was created.

“He came back several times bring a film crew to capture footage from the coast to the mountains in north Alabama. He saw everything from Gees Bend in Wilcox County to the Space and Rocket Center in Madison County and the quality of the program was the same no matter the socio-economic background. The video evolved over time to a full -length documentary film that features the Alabama story with footage of Gov. Ivey speaking about the importance of a strong start.”

The film shows various early learning centers in Alabama including Camden, Madison, Satsuma and Montgomery.

Featured in the film alongside Ivey are Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield, former director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History Ed Bridges, Alabama School Readiness Alliance Executive Director Allison Muhlendorf and Pre-K Task Force member Jeff Coleman and teachers and staff from the Department of Early Childhood Education.

Canfield told Alabama Daily News that Alabama’s pre-K program is vital for ensuring Alabama’s future generations of workers are well equipped and well rounded.

“Alabama’s investment in a top-notch pre-K program is providing a solid foundation for young learners in our state by encouraging engagement in education that will continue throughout their school years,” Canfield said. “Down the road, the positive benefits of our expanded pre-K efforts will take shape in a more talented workforce and a more dynamic economy.”

The International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy published a study last month showing that the benefits of Alabama’s pre-K program have been shown to continue into a child’s elementary and middle school years. The study showed that children who receive pre-K were significantly more likely to be proficient in both math and reading compared to students who didn’t go through the program.

The film’s virtual world premiere, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. EDT today, with an encore screening scheduled for that evening at 7:30 p.m. EDT.

You can watch the film during it’s live virtual premiere and view a panel discussion by RSVPing at