Patricia Snyder - David Lawrence Jr. Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Studies
When Patricia Snyder was a child, kindergarten in public schools was not widely available, and preschool was a luxury beyond her Pittsburgh steel-working family’s modest means. But she was fortunate: She had nurturing parents who provided early experiences and opportunities that fostered a love for learning.
“I wasn’t born into a family with great financial wealth, but I was born into a family with a wealth of love and one that valued education and provided early learning experiences,” she recalls.
In her work, Snyder advances the science and develops the tools to give every child those types of early experiences, whether it’s at school — through quality early-childhood education — or at home, through parent skill-building and family support.
“As a civil and moral society, we have a responsibility to ensure that those services and supports are available for all children and families who need them,” she says.
Her goal is to ensure that early childhood services and supports are both available and informed by the latest research. She has found a staunch ally in David Lawrence Jr., the early-education visionary leader and advocate for whom her endowed chair is named. Meeting Lawrence and understanding his vision for the chair was a big part of her decision to accept the position at Florida, Snyder says. Their partnership helps move science into practices and policies to benefit children in Florida and nationwide, and their friendship provides solace when the challenges seem daunting.
“It’s really important to know that he’s an email or a phone call away,” she says. “It’s made me a better scientist and a better professor by having the opportunity to really see further about the collective impacts of the work that we’re doing.”
When a passionate advocate and a leading professor unite to advance a cause, it’s a powerful combination.
David Lawrence Jr.
Visiting a community center in an underprivileged part of Florida, David Lawrence Jr. held up the children’s book he was reading and showed a drawing of a rabbit to his audience of preschoolers. Not one child knew what it was.
“Two of them said ‘cow,’” Lawrence recalls. “What a tragedy.”
Knowing a rabbit from a cow might not seem critical at age 3, but it highlights the learning disparities that can take root long before a child starts school.
When Lawrence, the former publisher of The Miami Herald, decided to devote his energies to public service full time, early childhood education emerged as an area of pressing need — and vast potential to change lives.
“I simply came to believe that the whole future of the United States depended on getting folks more educated,” he says. “I came to understand fully that if you could ever get the early years right, you’d probably have children and then adults with momentum all their lives.”
When a child succeeds in school, the benefits extend far beyond that family. From safer communities to a better workforce, early childhood education can touch each of our lives, Lawrence says.
“The very future of Florida — and America — depends on children being ready to succeed in school and in life.”