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Build stronger educational, financial base for children
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With the holiday season upon us, most Georgians are thinking about celebrations with family and friends, holiday breaks and, of course, gifts. 

This holiday season, I am encouraging Georgia parents and grandparents to give the most important gift you can give to children: the gift of education.

In your child’s early years, this gift involves reading with your children, playing with them and encouraging a love of learning. As they go through school, Georgia’s teachers will work hand-in-hand with you to build upon the foundation you have established to prepare your children for success.

The Georgia Department of Education is working to put all students on paths to college and careers, no matter what they choose to do after high-school graduation. We are supporting teachers in their pursuit of continuous improvement of their craft and uniting business, community and state leaders behind a common goal of improving public education in Georgia.

As we strive to prepare Georgia’s children for college, the work force and life, I encourage families to also think about establishing a strong financial foundation for children to ensure their educations can continue after high school. We want every child in Georgia to have the opportunity to achieve their dreams, and in today’s competitive global job market, education is one of the most important tools we can give them.

It’s been a busy year with many changes for Georgia’s public schools, from the implementation of the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards to the continued rollout of the state’s new teacher and leader evaluation system. We want to challenge our students and elevate our teaching methods to meet the demands of the 21st century economy. We want to not only test knowledge, but teach students how to apply it in real-world situations.

We also are working hard to get our new College and Career Ready Performance Index ready. The index will let teachers put the focus back on the child in the classroom instead of just worrying about the test because there’s so much more to accountability than a test score. We want to put the focus back on the children, which ultimately will lead to improved student achievement and more students pursuing their passions.

While the thought of saving for a college education can seem overwhelming, remember that you don’t have to save the entire amount. The dream of a college education for your children is within reach; the key is to start early and save regularly. Saving small amounts over time can provide children with the financial foundation they need to supplement scholarships, grants, loans and other financial aid. Even if your child is in high school, any amount you save today will make a difference tomorrow. There are many gifts you can give to a child or loved one, but how many of them can help make that child’s dreams come true?

When you open Georgia’s Path2College 529 Plan for someone or contribute to an existing Path2College 529 Plan account, you help build a foundation that can shape the dream of higher education and open the door to a world of opportunities. It only takes $25 to open or contribute to an account, and on, gift-givers simply can click on “Give a Gift” and start making a child’s college dreams become reality.

So this holiday season, as you fight the crowds in the stores to find that perfect gift, please remember that while the gift of an education is not something we can wrap up and put under the tree, it is one of the most valuable gifts we can give to the children in our lives. By working together to build strong intellectual and financial foundations, we can help students of all backgrounds and ability levels achieve their dreams.

Barge is the Georgia school superintendent. Before he was superintendent, Barge served as the director of secondary curriculum and instruction with the Bartow County School System.

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