Celebrating early learning for island kids

County Council Chairman Rick Hughes believes that investing in early learning benefits the county – and the country – tomorrow.

“I am very fortunate to serve on the the executive committee of the opportunity council and the family resource center board, and at the county council we are learning that taking care of young children prepares them in many ways for their future,” he said.

In conjunction with the San Juan County Early Learning Coalition and local education programs, the council has proclaimed April 24-28 the “Week of the Young Child.”

The proclamation reads: “These organizations are working to improve early learning opportunities for children and families, including early literacy programs, that can provide a foundation of learning for children in San Juan County, Washington. Teachers and others who make a difference in the lives of young children in San Juan County, Washington deserve thanks and recognition. Public policies that support early learning for all young children are crucial to young children’s futures.”

Research has shown that pre-kindergarten education from ages birth to five plays a vital role in children’s cognitive, physical and emotional development that will carry them through school and into the workplace.

San Juan County has the following early learning opportunities: Orcas Island – Kaleidoscope Preschool and Childcare Center, Orcas Island Children’s House, Orcas Montessori School and Orcas Island Forest School; Lopez – Lopez Children’s Center; and San Juan Island – Children’s House Montessori School, Alphabet Soup Preschool and Child Care, Building Blocks Preschool, Lighthouse Preschool, San Juan Head Start and St. David’s Day School.

The San Juan County Early Learning Coalition is one of five counties represented in the regional Northwest Early Learning Coalition based out of Anacortes. The coalition’s purpose is to coordinate partnerships with early learning providers, align local efforts with statewide priorities and build public engagement.

In early April, the coalition organized dinner and dialogue events with preschools and school district staff on Orcas and San Juan.

“Our coalition intention is for schools to collaboratively work together to give our children the strongest start possible in school,” said Ethna Flanagan, coordinator for the county’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program and a board member of the coalition. “We know from neuroscience that the first five years are crucial to brain development. High quality preschool programs have proven to have lasting effect on school success … We have a strong community that truly cares about its youth with a mission to continue to improve opportunities for children and families.”

Another of the coalition’s priorities is “Play and Learn,” which increases the number of high-quality playgroups. They are a chance for parents and caregivers to participate in fun learning activities every week. Lopez, San Juan and Orcas all offer the playgroups, which are a low-cost approach to increasing child and family engagement. Community leaders have been invited to a series of open houses April 27-29 on Orcas and San Juan to learn more about the program.

On Orcas, the play and learn group meets regularly on Thursday at the Funhouse Commons from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. On San Juan Island, the schedule is as follows: Thursdays at the San Juan Island Library from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and at the San Juan Island Resource Center on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and the last Saturday of every month for working families, and Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays for Spanish speakers; all classes meet from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. On Lopez, play and learn provides year-round full day and half day childcare for children 30 months through six years and a before and after kindergarten program at the Children’s Center.

Upcoming early learning events

On San Juan Island, the Family Umbrella Group provides pre-school scholarships to relieve the financial burden on families. The group serves 16 to 20 families per year and pays 95 percent of the tuition cost. The 19th annual fundraiser for the program will be on Friday, April 28 at the Mullis Center starting at 11 a.m. with a silent auction and piano music by David Bayley. There will be a wine bar and table service lunch by Coho Restaurant at noon. Full table reservations are available for parties of 6 or 8. Lunch (with vegetarian and gluten free options) will be followed by a dessert and live auction. Tickets are $30 in advance at Mystical Mermaid or $35 at the door. One hundred of the proceeds go to the Family Umbrella Group. For more information, call Alisha at 360-298-6546.

The San Juan Island Family Resource Center will hold its fourth annual kindergarten kick-off on Wednesday, May 17 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Dinner will be served in the elementary school cafeteria to incoming kindergarteners, their parents and/or their primary caregivers. After dinner, the adults will have an opportunity to meet with school staff while the kids enjoy play and learn time.

Orcas Community Resource Center and ECEAP has two upcoming kindergarten transition events. On Wednesday, May 17, children entering kindergarten in the fall will ride the bus to Orcas Island Public School for a school tour led by principal Lorena Stankevich followed by lunch in the school cafeteria. On Wednesday, May 24, a banquet will be held at the Orcas Island Senior Center. Children entering kindergarten (along with their parents or guardians) are invited to attend a dinner prepared by Chris Hogle followed by an opportunity to participate in learning centers led by teachers from Orcas Island Public School, Orcas Christian School, Orcas Montessori School, Children’s House, Kaleidoscope and the Orcas Public Library. OISD Superintendent Eric Webb and Stankevich will present children with backpacks filled with educational games upon completion of the centers. Parents may sign their children up for these events at their respective preschools or by contacting Jana at the Orcas Community Resource Center: jana@orcascrc.org or 376-3184.

Early childhood investment pays off on Orcas Island

“Results demonstrate the work of the ‘Early Childhood Education’ initiative on Orcas has been successful and provide evidence that investing in quality preschool programs locally pays off in kindergarten-readiness,” said Orcas Island Children’s House Executive Director Susan Anderson.

Over the last three years, the ECE initiative— a collaboration of the three Orcas Island state-licensed Preschools, private funders, and expert advisors — has worked steadily to improve student outcomes by focusing on key areas for preschool improvement, including student access and teaching quality.

In 2015, only 44.2 percent of Washington State students entering kindergarten were considered ready in all six domains: social, emotional, physical, language, cognitive, literacy and math. While Orcas kindergarten students tested higher at 69.2 percent.

“We knew Orcas could improve and set about defining and implementing the steps that would get us there,” says Teresa Chocano, director of Montessori.

By the fall of 2016, Washington State improved its percentage to 47.4 percent. But assessments on Orcas showed that 87.1 percent were now ready in 6 of 6 domains.

“The percentage growth in readiness on our island demonstrates the investments are working,” said Anderson.

She credits extensive collaboration with Kaleidoscope and Montessori, participation in Washington State’s Quality Rating and Improvement System and critical investments by the initiative for improving kindergarten-readiness on Orcas.

Amber Paulsen, director of Kaleidoscope, agrees but says that ECEAP expansion at her school was also a critical component for improvement.

“By funding 3- and 4-year-olds more preschool hours and extending their access through the summer, we’ve been able help students who need it most,” she said.

Washington State Department of Early Learning has set a goal of 90 percent of students meeting kindergarten readiness in 6 of 6 domains by 2020. With support of the Initiative and highly motivated preschools, Orcas is on its way to meeting the goal.

Funding is still needed to support the progress. To continue its work, the ECE initiative is seeking bridge funding to provide time to develop a collaborative, long-term funding strategy for ECE with OICF and other community partners. You can learn more about supporting the initiative’s work at www.orcasislandece.org.