Huntley uses her story to support high quality preschool

Published 12:50 pm Wednesday, February 8, 2017

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Liz Huntley drew from her early education experience to call for support of high quality preschool for every 4-year-old during her presentation to the Chilton County Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 7.

Huntley is a litigation attorney, advocate for children, a member of the University of Alabama law school foundation board of directors and a member of the Auburn University board of directors.

“I am a true example of … how God can take that person’s life and turn it around,” Huntley said.

The early years of Huntley’s life were spent in Huntsville with her parents and four siblings, who had four different fathers.

When Huntley’s father was arrested for drug dealing, her mother continued dealing drugs and began using heroin. Huntley said she was 5 when her mother took her and her younger sister to live with her grandmother and distributed her other siblings to other family members.

She discovered her mother had committed suicide by overhearing a conversation. Huntley said she also heard adults complaining figuring out what to do with the children. Then Huntley took on the role of trying to protect her younger sister.

“Within a month after me moving into my grandmother’s house … one of my uncles in that home started to sexually abuse me,” Huntley said.

Huntley said this was the “darkest, lowest point” of her life.

“My whole physical makeup started to change. I went from a happy-go-lucky child to slumped over and always looking down,” Huntley said.

She said a child’s brain is still developing at age 5.

“When kids are experiencing these traumatic things, the entire neurological makeup of their body changes, and it changes to such an extent that it actually stops the flow of information to the frontal cortex of the brain,” Huntley said. “If a child is not getting information to the frontal cortex of the brain, that is where we process decisions, where we decide about behavior, if that’s not developed then … You are going to have behavior issues.”

Love is only one thing that can reverse such a process, Huntley said.

For Huntley, this came in the form of her preschool teachers in the West End community.

When she first arrived, she was embarrassed because of everything she had been through and being poor. One look at the classroom brought a small smile to Huntley’s face because it was beautiful. The preschool teachers welcomed her with a hug.

“For the first time in my fragile little life, I felt the nurturing touch of an adult. These ladies loved on their kids and they had high expectations for their kids,” Huntley said

This encouraged Huntley to learn.

“I thrived in this classroom. It was fantastic,” Huntley said. “All the stressors didn’t change, but I had that buffer of that nurturing environment.”

When it came time to start first grade, Huntley’s grandmother put her on the school bus. At the school alone, she read the list of first grade students to find her classroom and sat in the front row. She had learned to read in preschool.

Huntley said her teacher looked like Wonder Woman.

“It was Miss Pam Young, but she was my Wonder Woman,” Huntley said.

The teacher asked Huntley her name. Huntley told her and about how she had found her way to the classroom. Huntley said Young saw her as resilient and intelligent. The teacher told Huntley, “You are going to be the brightest student I ever have.”

“That’s how powerful the ministry God uses of early childhood education [is], that is the power and the impact that it has on kids. It’s life changing,” Huntley said.

Huntley said early childhood education does not require extravagant funding to be successful, but it does need a nurturing environment.