Helping local families kindergarten readiness

For families who would like to send their children to pre-school but need help with tuition, applications or health exams, there is local assistance available.

The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program is a comprehensive preschool program that provides free services and support to eligible children and their families. Funded by the state and organized locally by San Juan County’s Department of Health and Community Services, ECEAP helps children and families prepare for kindergarten.

“When we have parents who are under stress, particularly during the pandemic, having a network around you and your child is so important,” said San Juan County ECEAP coordinator Ethna Flanagan.

For those who qualify, ECEAP pays for preschool tuition to Orcas Island Children’s House, Orcas Island Montessori School, Kaleidoscope, Kaleidoscope Forest School and Lopez Children’s Center. The program serves kids ages three to four (participants must be three by Aug. 31). Families also receive nutritious meals and snacks during the school day.

ECEAP received $1 million from the State Department of Children, Youth and Families, the majority of which is going straight to services and tuition for island families. There are 60 slots for Orcas and Lopez and around 3/4 are filled.

Qualification is based on either income, current participation in Early Support for Infants and Toddlers services or developmental and environmental risk factors. To apply, contact Chelsie Guilford, Health Program Specialist, at 360-643-6239 or Learn more about San Juan County’s ECEAP here:

“The state median income level is higher now so more families qualify but it’s not just based on income — there are a lot of considerations that can make you eligible,” Guilford explained.

As a program specialist, Guilford provides an individualized plan for each family. She helps fill out forms for any kind of assistance or program, keeps track of immunizations, well-child exams and dental check-ups, and administers vision and hearing screenings. She accomplishes all this thanks to a state grant that paid for high-end medical equipment.

“We’ve been able to catch medical issues that would have gone undetected before,” Guilford said. “ECEAP pays for everything – there are no co-pays. And families can come to me for anything, even questions like ‘Is this normal?’ One parent told me it’s like having a therapy session, just being able to talk to me.”

ECEAP also collaborates with Orcas Community Resource Center for the kindergarten transition banquet each year and helps coordinate the free dental van in San Juan County.

Both Flanagan and Guilford stressed how vital pre-school is for young ones.

“Teaching kids social skills are lifelong skills that they need,” Guilford said. “Ages zero to five are so critical for development. Children need the peer interactions and learning environment that pre-school can provide.”

ECEAP is committed to racial equity and social justice. Heidi Bruce provides translation services for Spanish-speaking clients, and Guilford says all details provided by clients are confidential.

“ECEAP is about meeting families emotionally and mentally where they are in life,” she said. “For families in fear of deportation, all information given is confidential and will not be shared with government agencies outside of ECEAP. Our goal is to help you and your child be prepared for kindergarten and keep families together.”

A child at Kaleidoscope's Forest School.