SAN TAN VALLEY – The First Things First (FTF) Pinal Regional Partnership Council hosted community leaders from San Tan Valley, Florence, and Apache Junction on Nov. 5 to learn how high-quality early education makes a difference in the lives of young children. 

The Pinal County Board of Supervisors, school superintendents, and other community leaders toured WonderWise Preschool in San Tan Valley. WonderWise participates in First Things First’s signature program, Quality First, which partners with child care and preschool providers to improve the quality of early learning across Arizona.

“A quality early learning environment is so important because it establishes the foundation for a child’s future and continued success throughout school and life,” said Connie Hardenburg, Wonderwise Preschool director. 

Quality First funds quality improvements that research proves help children thrive. And through its website, Quality First offers parents information about the importance of quality early care and education and what to look for in child care and preschool settings that promote learning. 

During the tour, attendees learned about the FTF Pinal Regional Council, which funds programs throughout Pinal County that give parents the tools they need to help their children, birth to age 5, be healthy and ready to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. 

  • They learned that quality child care and preschool programs build on basic health and safety, including:
  • Teachers who know how to work with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.
  • Learning environments that nurture the emotional, social, language and cognitive development of every child.
  • Positive, consistent relationships that give young children the individual attention they need.

For parent Jacqueline Davis, who has a 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter attending WonderWise Preschool, the program has helped her children immensely, especially her son who started the program when he was 3-1/2 years old. 

“He was turning 4 years old in October last year and although he was prepared academically for kindergarten, he was not prepared emotionally or socially,” Davis said. “After consulting with the teacher and director of the school, we all agreed he could benefit from holding him back a year. This year he has grown exponentially, both emotionally and socially. He can sit still now, follow directions, and get along with everyone. Now, he is so excited about learning and even looks forward to doing his homework every day.”

Evidence shows that high-quality early learning settings build a foundation for a child’s later success. Research shows 90 percent of a child’s brain develops before age 5. The positive, nurturing relationships young kids have with adults, from parents to child care and early learning professionals, shape their learning now and throughout their lives. Quality child care and preschool settings help children develop skills like motivation, self-control, focus, and self-esteem that are crucial to their success now and once they enter school. 

About First Things First – First Things First is a voter-created, statewide organization that funds early education and health programs to help kids be successful once they enter kindergarten. Decisions about how those funds are spent are made by local councils staffed by community volunteers. To learn more, visit