They started with only seven children, but the outcome is making a big difference in the Southeast community of Wrangell.
Krissy Smith, chair of the Wrangell Early Childhood Coalition, a Best Beginning Partnership, explained, “Looking into it, we realized that seven children would enter kindergarten this year without benefit of any early learning program.”
So over the past year, the partnership subsidized early learning for the children, initiated a mentoring and evaluation system for local child care programs, and raised the profile of early learning – and its importance – in the community.
With partnership funds as scholarships, the children were able to attend a child care program four hours a day, four days a week, for four months. The parents chose which program their child would attend. Using a rating scale, the two participating child care providers assessed their programs and received funds to augment their activity materials and spaces.
Child care staff attended off-site training once a month and received monthly on-site mentoring. At the end of the four months, the providers completed another self-evaluation, using the same rating scale, and received additional funds to use however they wished.
“It was clear from the evaluations that the mentoring and support resulted in higher quality child care for all 20 of the children in those programs,” Smith said. The data showed clear, quantifiable improvements. The providers had more and better materials, more kid-friendly environments, better understanding of age-appropriate activities, more outside play, and more movement and exercise.
“The providers themselves felt really revived and excited about what they’re doing. They hadn’t felt that way in a long time,” Smith said.
In a presentation to the Wrangell Borough Assembly, the partnership showed the powerful 4-minute video “Change the First Five Years and You Change Everything” and presented their data about the mentoring/scholarship project. The presentation hit a home run. The Assembly budgeted $5,000 for preschool scholarships in its yearly base and left the door open for increases in future years.
But the partnership is still working hard. Several child care providers have closed up shop, resulting in a severe shortage of slots. The partnership has been actively recruiting new providers, applying for grants and donations to continue the program, and working with the four child care centers that are signed up for the mentoring/scholarship program starting in October.