Santa Barbara’s Storyteller Children’s Center recently hosted a forum to discuss the impact of early childhood education on later academic success.

SCC is a non-profit preschool that provides a free education to homeless and low-income families, for whom English is generally a second language. UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education found that, despite their difficult upbringing, the children enrolled at the center were better prepared for kindergarten than other students.

In fact, the study revealed that 57 percent of “Storyteller children” were ready for the next grade, compared to 21 percent of comparable children in the county.

Storyteller’s Director of Development Denise Hinkle said there is a greater need for preschools in the nation, especially those dedicated to underprivileged students.

“For every three children in Santa Barbara County that are preschool age and should be in school, there is only one spot available, regardless of whether they can pay,” Hinkle said. “Without our preschool available to them tuition-free, there is a strong likelihood that [more children] would not have a preschool education.”

Hinkle said the school aims to teach basic preschool knowledge and focus on mental health.

“What is foremost on our minds is that these kids are emotionally fine so they can interact appropriately in social ways,” Hinkle said. “If … they haven’t learned how to interact with the other kids, they won’t be able to focus on what they need to learn.”

Additionally, Gevirtz Graduate School Professor Mike Furlong, who will be monitoring five groups of SCC students’ progress until they reach third grade, said the recent results underline the importance of childhood education. The study examined kindergarten report cards, which revealed that most of the children in the program boasted high reading and math skills.

“The success of students is influenced by their preschool years,” Furlong said. “A high-quality kindergarten class is worth $320,000 in financial gain during their lifetime.”

According to Furlong, high-quality education is of utmost importance to preschoolers.

“A little change early on can create a big change later on in life,” Furlong said. “You could literally change the trajectory of child’s life.”