As a retired pediatrician who had to overcome several obstacles to obtain a medical degree and practice for more than 50 years, I eagerly support the efforts of those strongly advocating for more early childhood education.

After reading the thoughtful commentary by Rivard Report Publisher Robert Rivard and the announcement of the upcoming 2018 San Antonio Regional PK-12 Public Education Forum, I was pleased to see that people in this city are deeply concerned and willing to talk about the education of our preschoolers, especially those from disadvantaged sectors of our city.

However, a child’s path to academic success does not start at birth but at conception. There is now ample scientific evidence that a mother’s abnormal metabolic state due to obesity, poor diet, and other environmental factors during the ensuing pregnancy will have a significant adverse effect on her offspring’s neurodevelopmental outcomes, including its cognitive abilities. The “Western diet” of high sugar, saturated fats, and salt contents – commonly eaten by many of these mothers – is harmful to the developing baby. Mothers should be encouraged to eat better, by way of the food stamp program, if necessary.

The period between birth and age 3 merits attention as offsprings of poor, obese mothers are at a distinct educational disadvantage before they even leave the newborn nursery. Prior to these children’s enrollment in Pre-K 3 and Pre-K4 classes, low breastfeeding rates, inadequate mothering skills, lack of time spent with babies and toddlers, parents’ inadequate English-language skills, parental absence, and adverse childhood experiences such as domestic abuse or neighborhood violence may contribute to negative outcomes.

Far-reaching educational efforts could encourage mothers to increase interaction with their babies and toddlers in order to attune them to learning processes prior to being enrolled in preschool. One such program, Parents As Teachers, already is achieving impressive results. This international nonprofit focuses on parent education and early development, and its graduates’ offsprings have demonstrated advantages when they enroll in preschool programs later on. Data also shows that down the road, these children have better college achievement rates than non-participants.

Beyond inadequate preschool programs, poorly funded public schools, low high school graduation rates, and subpar college readiness rates only add to the equation.

With San Antonio’s economic segregation come health and educational disparities. This unacceptable situation will continue unless local thought leaders succeed in convincing policymakers and the general public that San Antonio’s future depends on everyone working together to give our city’s children opportunities to succeed.

Think about these outcomes a chain with individual links. I only touched on two links, and every link counts.

I look forward to discussing the state of San Antonio’s preschool education at the upcoming forum at the Witte Museum on March 6 – the future of our city depends on what we do now to ensure our children can achieve academic and economic success.

Disclosure: The 2018 San Antonio Regional PK-12 Public Education Forum is co-hosted by the Rivard Report. 

Dr. John Menchaca is a retired pediatrician with 50 years of experience. Having grown up in a poor rural farm near San Antonio, he is very interested in helping disadvantaged children overcome the many...