When she began her career as a first-grade teacher more than 40 years ago, Judith P. Hoyer was convinced that young children were prolific learners even before they entered her classroom. Now, experts say the childhood centers in Maryland named for Hoyer are proving her point.

State officials this week touted a recent study that measured results after the first two years of operation at 13 Judy centers, named for the late Prince George's County early childhood educator and spouse of U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md). There are 24 state-funded Judy centers in Maryland that emphasize school readiness for children 5 and younger and their families. The state allocates about $7.6 million yearly for the centers, which have worked with about 8,000 children in 21 counties.

"Judy was convinced that if you intervened early, you could make a very positive impact in every child's life and ability to succeed. Underline every," said Hoyer, speaking during a news conference Monday at Cradlerock School in Columbia with state and local education officials.

State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said the findings from 2001 to 2003 showed that Judy centers help to quickly close the achievement gap when it first emerges for poor and other disadvantaged children.

"This is the very best bang for the buck," she said. "It enables us to meet subsequent standards for education, and education is the bridge for every child."

John H. Cox, an assistant superintendent in Charles County, said his local Judy Center programs have had an impact at two elementary schools with high percentages of poor children.

The scores for school readiness are shooting upward, he said.

The report by Tallahassee consultant MGT of America found that students with limited English proficiency who had received services through Judy centers as preschoolers did not fall behind their peers during kindergarten in developing school readiness -- an array of literacy skills, scientific thinking and appropriate classroom behavior. Similarly, preschoolers from low-income households who received Judy Center services showed no performance gap in their readiness to learn during kindergarten. The consultants recommended tracking students from Judy centers through elementary school to determine whether their early progress could be sustained.

Anne Yenchko, director of Howard's Judy Center at Cradlerock School, said the two-year-old program helped nearly 80 percent of Cradlerock's kindergartners show academic proficiency by last spring. The effort will intensify to improve the readiness of more students entering kindergarten in the coming school year, she said.

Besides working as partners with other early childhood providers, such as the federally funded Head Start program and private day-care facilities, Judy centers help families obtain services and refine parenting skills.

That point was emphasized by Howard parent Rosa Murillo, who told educators that the Cradlerock Judy Center located a translator when she met with a physician about eye surgery for her son.

"That was good because I could make a good decision about my child's health," she said, addressing the group in Spanish.

Hoyer recently filed federal legislation to authorize $200 million in funding for Judy centers and other school programs throughout the country that combine federal, state and local services to assist students and families.

"I'm pleased what we did several years ago is working," he said. "If it's working, we need to invest in it."

Anne Yenchko heads the Judy Center at Cradlerock School. She says it helped nearly 80 percent of Cradlerock kindergartners show proficiency.