HARRISONBURG — Virginia first lady Pamela Northam made several stops in the Harrisonburg area Wednesday, touring three early childhood education programs which received grants and offering remarks at the Virginia Green Travel Conference.
Smart Beginnings Greater Harrisonburg, in collaboration with James Madison University, Harrisonburg City Public Schools and Rockingham County Public Schools, was awarded a Mixed Delivery and Preschool Development Grant to support participating early care and education centers, both public and private, assisting in increasing quality early care and education across the state.
There are 12 centers in total that make up Smart Beginnings Greater Harrisonburg, and Northam, wife of Gov. Ralph Northam, visited three on Wednesday.
Northam got a tour of Harrisonburg/Rockingham Child Day Care Center, Roberta Webb Child Care Center and JMU Young Children’s Program. She was able to interact with students and teachers and learn how the centers are supporting these little learners.
“I have the best job in the whole world. I’m married to the principal of the whole state,” Northam said to a group of 3-year-olds gathered to play tiny violins and sing for Northam at JMU’s Young Children’s Program.
The purpose of Northam’s visit was to promote the importance of early childhood education and to see how grants, such as the one received by the Smart Beginnings Greater Harrisonburg, are impacting children’s lives.
“Education is the most powerful tool to change the world,” Northam said.
The difference between students entering kindergarten with preschool experience and those without in terms of a head start is huge, said Pat Kennedy, director of JMU’s Young Children’s Program.
The program has been at JMU since the 1970s, Kennedy said. Three years ago the center went from a half-day only program to being able to offer full-day spots for 3-year-olds.
The center is licensed to teach 70 students by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The Young Children’s Program is the only accredited center in the area, the next closest being in Augusta County, Kennedy said.
About Northam’s visit, Kennedy said, “She’s here to show the importance of early childhood education. Something the governor and the first lady know is important.”
Northam then went on to the sixth annual Virginia Green Travel Conference and Travel Star Awards to kick off the conference as a speaker.
The conference features discussions about global trends, sustainability, energy efficiency and green transportation over two days and is hosted at Hotel Madison and Shenandoah Valley Conference Center.
Green travel initiatives “ensures travel is both comfortable and sustainable,” Northam said.
Northam discussed land conservation efforts by the state administration including the designation of several parks across the state.
Virginia will become the 12th state to regulate carbon pollution, she said.
“Last Friday, the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board approved a new regulation to reduce and cap carbon dioxide emissions from large fossil fuel-powered energy generating facilities,” Northam said.
The 2020 carbon trading program budget is 28 million tons, according to the text of the regulation accessed by the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall portal.
“We are taking care of our precious resources so that they will be here for the next 400 years for our explorers and travels,” Northam said.