The early achievement gap between children from poor and affluent families can mean the difference for later success.That was the message from Joel Ryan, executive director of the Washington State Association of Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, to a crowd full of early educators and volunteers on Wednesday. Ryan was the keynote speaker at Educational Opportunities for Children and Families’ Early Learning Champions Award Luncheon at Club Green Meadows.Ryan spoke about trends in early childhood education, saying research suggests that the gap between middle-class and poor families’ children begins as young as 18 months old.If children enter kindergarten without the skills they need to succeed in school, they’re often destined to remain behind the rest of their school experience, according to Ryan’s presentation. Other factors in a young child’s life, such as whether they’ve experienced trauma from a young age or whether their mother has a college degree, can also point to whether that child will succeed in high school and go on to graduate.“It starts so much earlier than maybe we anticipated,” Ryan told the crowd of about 200.The event also featured Clark County’s Early Learning Champions for 2017 and a video welcome from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.“Early education is one of the best investments we can make,” Murray, a former preschool teacher, said in the recorded message.Ryan dwelled briefly on politics in his speech, citing uncertainty about the future of federally funded school programs. He also mentioned political gridlock in Olympia, where lawmakers are currently in an overtime legislative session to respond to the 2012 McCleary order requiring full funding of K-12 education.“Your politics shouldn’t be a party,” Ryan said. “It should be kids.”Award winnersEOCF also recognized the efforts of local leaders in early childhood education at the luncheon.Award recipients included volunteers, educators and nonprofit workers. They are:• Debbie Jennerjohn, former EOCF parent policy council and board member.• Jane Lanigan, academic director of the human development department at Washington State University Vancouver.• Sarah Theberge, Clark College, early childhood education instructor.• Diane Loghry, director of early learning at the Camas School District.• Nancy Trevena, supervisor at EOCF.• Jan Flock, retired occupational therapist for Evergreen Public Schools.• Nonie Laurine, volunteer with the Y’s Care Children’s Program at the YWCA.• Amy Lee, youth services staff at Fort Vancouver Regional Library.• Joy Studer, director of family and children ministries at Messiah Lutheran Church.• Talia Shide, a mental health consultant with Children’s Home Society.• Karen Kunkler, benefits counselor with Colonial Life Insurance.Jennerjohn, owner of truck repair company Ultimate Truck Service, received the Alan Ham Leadership Award, opening the day’s award ceremony. The award, named for the first board chair of EOCF, honors a leader committed to young children.