All children deserve a strong start. But in far too many communities, children in poverty miss out. Without access to high-quality early learning programs, they fall behind. Many never catch up.

Traditionally, the educational focus has been on K-12 classes, but this model shortchanges underserved children who often are not ready to begin school. In recent years, we have found that school success and the foundation for adult productivity depend on an early introduction to learning. Brain development in young children occurs in critical stages, and 85 percent of that development takes place before kindergarten.

On Oct. 27, we helped address school readiness with a new community vocabulary collaboration between leading Detroit foundations, literacy experts and community groups. The Skillman Foundation and Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation joined the PNC Foundation in announcing a $1.5 million initiative to build preschool children’s vocabulary in two Detroit neighborhoods. Say & Play with Words (Hablen y Jueguen con Palabras) will infuse vocabulary and literacy initiatives and a strategy for families learning together into a powerful educational model serving the Southwest Detroit and Brightmoor neighborhoods.

The literacy experts at the National Center for Families Learning are leading the programming effort, and the key to the initiative’s success will be the on-the-ground participation of Southwest Solutions, Development Centers, Congress of Communities and Brightmoor Alliance.

The program will engage young children and their families to increase the likelihood that at-risk children in these two neighborhoods succeed in school. The initiative recognizes that early learning begins at home. Parents who read and talk to their children at young ages lay the basis for physical, cognitive, social and emotional development long before kindergarten begins. The new program will build on that foundation by teaching vocabulary in a real-world, active context which incorporates learning across the whole family.

A valuable compliment to the work of dedicated parents is a good preschool. High quality school readiness programs enhance the environment for children’s learning and the results are remarkable and quantifiable.

For example, a recent study by Duke University revealed that North Carolina’s investments in early childhood education significantly reduced the number of children in third grade special education programs. This performance improvement also resulted in significant cost savings to the state.

In addition, early education can close the achievement gap between at-risk children and their better-off peers. The Detroit community should find this especially relevant given that approximately 59 percent of our children live below the poverty line, more than twice the 22.6 percent level statewide.

The research is clear that when we establish the right foundation for children’s development, we meet our obligation to provide them with the tools they need to meet the challenges ahead. I’m confident that this new collaborative we announced in late October will make a real difference in the lives of children in Southwest Detroit and Brightmoor. I encourage everyone in Greater Detroit — including our elected officials and business leaders — to support investments in early education so all of our children will have the tools they need to succeed in school and life.

Ric DeVore is regional president of PNC Bank.