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Putting it all together: Blending education, child care for young kids

Date: Monday, May 16, 2022

There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to meeting the needs of early childhood. Like the young ones being served, high-quality programming and community partnerships for children and families come in different makes, kinds, shapes and sizes. Programming that blends childcare and quality early learning experiences within a decision-making framework of evidence-based practices in instruction and assessment that addresses the needs of all students, known as Multi-Tiered System of Supports, provides benefits that impact young lives for a lifetime.

School officials in the College Community School District in Cedar Rapids understand this well.

Kathy Schulte, principal at the Prairie Early Childhood Center, says the most dramatic period of brain development in a human life happens from birth to age 8. A kindergarten teacher for 15 years, one year in early childhood special education and 17 years and counting as an early childhood principal, Schulte knows the terrain well.

“For every dollar we invest in early education it produces a 7 to 13 percent return,” Schulte said. “We know that if children are in high-quality early childhood programs, high school graduation rates increase as much as 44 percent. That’s huge.”

The College Community School District campus includes the Prairie Early Childhood Center and five elementary school buildings that provide before- and after-school care, Statewide Voluntary Preschool Programs and wrap-around services designed to provide children with holistic, comprehensive academic, social or behavioral supports. For the infants and preschoolers receiving care at the Prairie Early Childhood Center, in partnership with Head Start and Statewide Voluntary Preschool Programs, the day is seamless for children, but funding comes from different sources to ensure children receive the support of full-day programming.

Schulte says that networking is essential to help establish strong, vibrant community partnerships that greatly enhance programming for kids and families.

“When we go to those Early Childhood Iowa meetings, there is such an opportunity to get in there and talk about what you have and what you’d like to have and everybody just comes together with that collaboration piece,” Schulte said. “That’s how I met the Head Start folks and we started expanding our program that way.”

Schulte said she can contact Linn County Early Childhood Iowa and share the need for staff or services and they will reach out to others in the early childhood realm.

“For example, there was a child who couldn’t attend because the parent didn’t have transportation,” Schulte said. “What resulted was those who could provide a bus pass or assistance in some way did so. Networking is the most important thing for collaborative results.”

Schulte and her staff looked at map data and noticed only a few children who lived in the Cedar Valley Townhomes – an affordable housing project – were in preschool every day and that there was no preschool close for the children to attend.

“We knew there were transportation barriers there so we decided to reach out to Cedar Valley Townhomes, the Affordable Housing Network, and our friends at Four Oaks," Schulte said. “Next year we are expanding using dollars from the BELIEF grant to have an onsite preschool program there with wraparound care provided by Head Start. It’s another blended model where parents will drop their kids off at the school bus stop area and drop their preschool kids at the office area where we will have a classroom. Then they can pick up their kids in the same area after school.”

Schulte cites another good example of the power of networking meetings.

“At one of our recent meetings we were talking about the need for interpreters because we are having more and more families who speak multiple languages,” she said. “Because everybody talked about it, Early Childhood Iowa was able to reach out and help us find different resources so everyone had resources in their back pocket when they needed them.”

Schulte says parents are an important part of partnerships and that the collaborative nature of various partnerships are the program’s strength. Collaborations provide opportunities not only for students and families but also for staff. For example, Schulte’s staff has the privilege of doing field experiences with students from nearby Kirkwood Community College. Kirkwood helps with professional development and education for Schulte’s staff as well.

“All of our early childhood programs are accredited by the National Association of the Education of the Young Child (NAEYC),” Schulte said. “We are very proud of that and work really hard to maintain it. Those wraparound daycare and preschool teachers have an opportunity every week to collaborate, so what is happening is enhancing what the preschool teachers taught. Everyone who works here has this wonderful, positive collaborative attitude.”

For those considering partnerships, Schulte emphasizes the importance of doing plenty of research.

“There’s all kinds of information available, like knowing where those childcare deserts are,” Schulte said. “By knowing that you are going to be able to enhance opportunities for kids.

“I always say we can always do better. Listen and talk to the individuals and families around. It’s just making sure that we are providing opportunities for families that they need right now. You have to go back to that model of ‘it takes a village’ and use all of your resources.”

View photos from the Early Childhood Center in the College Community School District.

Here are some of the many active partnerships in early childhood programs in the College Community School District:

  • Affordable Housing Network - Affordable Housing Network of Iowa provides decent, safe and sustainable housing which promotes stability for families and individuals, and creates community.
  • Cedar Valley Townhomes - Partnering for childcare and preschool class.
  • Iowa Childcare Resource and Referral - Provides professional learning, resources, referrals and networking.
  • Daytime Dancers – Dance opportunities for kids and families in the summer.
  • Department of Human Service (DHS) – Provides assistance for families, childcare funding for families to go into centers, plays an integral part making sure there are no barriers for families that are working or going to school so their children can attend preschool or go to childcare. Children can attend preschool for half a day then go to the wraparound room for childcare the other half of the day.
  • Early Childhood Iowa – Grant opportunities and networking.
  • Four Oaks - Four Oaks services are focused on and rooted in the family to empower children and families to achieve stability, self-sufficiency, and permanency.
  • Grantwood Area Education Association – Occupational therapy, physical therapy services, psychologist, hearing screens, behavior teams, education consultations.
  • Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP) - Programming and community resources, such as food shortage assistance or heating a home.
  • Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children (IAEYC) – Early Childhood Center participates in the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Iowa Scholarship program to promote early childhood and get more people in the field. T.E.A.C.H. contracts support staff to get tuition credits towards their associates or bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. Early Childhood Center currently has nine T.E.A.C.H. candidates working in the childcare setting who can get a teaching degree and then become a preschool teacher. WAGE$ IOWA is a salary supplement program offered by the IAEYC. It provides education-based salary supplements and stipends to early childcare workers.
  • Iowa State University – Parent education consortium classes. Six-week program where parents come into early childhood center at night for a parenting class where childcare and a meal are provided. Staff professional training, parent, community involvement trainings.
  • I-Smile - Conducts dental screening.
  • Libraries – Weekly read aloud and books for kids to take home.
  • Lions Club - Conducts vision screens.
  • Little Sports - Sporting activities for kids.
  • Music On the Move - Music opportunities for kids during the summer.