It seemed innocent enough, when Schaumburg Police Chief James Lamkin served as a guest reader on Monday in a preschool room at Elizabeth Blackwell School in Schaumburg.
He led a list of dignitaries in reading pages from the children's book, "Police Officers on Patrol," but it only underscored the point behind their visit: that preschool is key to public safety and national security.
With Lamkin were Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski, retired Lt. Gen. Randall Rigby and state Rep. Michelle Mussman.
Lamkin and Kaminski are members of the organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. Some 300 police chiefs, sheriffs and state's attorneys belong to the nonprofit, which promotes early learning as the key to keeping children from becoming criminals later in life.
"My experience in law enforcement has shown me that the more we can work with children when they're young, in forming good habits and role modeling, that the more we will see the benefits," Lamkin said.
A pair of long-term studies, one done by Chicago's Child-Parent Center and another by the Perry Preschool in Michigan, tracked at-risk children and found that by age 27, those that did not attend preschool were five times more likely to have been arrested. As well, by age 40, nonparticipants were 86 percent more likely to be sentenced to prison.
Sally Puleo, a deputy director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids said the group is hoping to convince legislators of the importance of preschool, in light of cuts in funding over the last five years to the Early Childhood Block Grant in Illinois.
"Our members want to weigh in about where we should invest our resources," Puleo said.
Sue Mayernick, early childhood director for Schaumburg Elementary District 54, described its expansive early learning programs, including those for at-risk and special-needs children.
Currently, District 54 has 470 at-risk children in their preschool program and 323 special education students, with more on a waiting list. Of those, nearly 80 percent come from families below or at the poverty level, Mayernick said.
Given the waiting list, the district has decided to build a new Early Childhood Center, with the potential to serve 840 children. They expect it to be open in the fall, in time for the next school year.
"We want to ensure that we're reaching all of our families," Mayernick added.
Rigby came as a representative of a related organization, called Mission: Readiness. The national, nonpartisan group has 400 retired generals and admirals who say 75 percent of young Americans are ineligible for military service, due to poor physical fitness and obesity, criminal records and poor education. Those who haven't finished high school cannot pass the military entrance exam.
Rigby, a former field artilleryman, described some of the digital weaponry he was trained to use, including a digital fire control system.
"We need really sharp, bright young people to defend this country," he said.