Let’s say that for every $1 you invest, you could get a return of $3 or more. Seems like a smart investment, right? And believe it or not, this opportunity actually exists for taxpayers...it’s provided through quality early childhood programming. Abundant research, from the 1960s to today, shows a direct link between participating in quality early childhood programs and better outcomes for the individual person, society, and the economy. In an article about the economic benefits of quality early childhood programming, Former Federal Reserve Bank Senior Vice President and Director of Research Art Rolnick stated, “Most of the numerous projects and initiatives that state and local governments fund in the name of creating new private businesses and new jobs result in few public benefits. In contrast, studies find that well-focused investments in early childhood development yield high public as well as private returns."
The early investment in education has been directly linked to a reduced need for more costly programs and services later in life. This early investment has been linked to better academic success including a greater likelihood of some form of post-secondary education. It has been linked to higher incomes, both for the child and the participating families. Participation in early childhood programming has been linked to fewer arrests as adults. Participation in early childhood programming has even been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases! All of these things benefit both the individual and society as a whole. So, where am I going with this? I want to take the opportunity to share with you how your school district is contributing to the overall greater good of the community through quality early childhood programs. Fosston ISD 601 operates a variety of early childhood education programs. Programs that reach the individual and families, and have numerous benefits for our community as a whole. Let’s start with Early Childhood Family Education.
Parenting is one of the most difficult tasks we take on as adults, and to make it more difficult, children don’t come with instruction manuals - as we’ve been told multiple times by numerous people. Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) programs seek to provide families support and guidance from a parent educator, as well as forming a peer support group for parents, all in an effort to help parents help their children to thrive. We know, from research, that: every activity a young child experiences provides learning; young children learn through play; learning to cooperate, to take turns, to work with others, to have patience, to show respect and to be resilient (soft skills) are crucial concepts that are best learned early. It is vital that children learn to understand & manage emotions, cope with challenges and learn positive social behavior. These are the areas that Fosston ECFE program staff focus on as they provide positive learning activities.
Fosston ISD 601 currently provides services to 44 children from 30 families through the ECFE program. Families choose either Tuesday or Thursday morning classes, or Tuesday evening classes, 2 hours per session over 8 weeks. When families walk in, there are play centers open along with organized centers on the tables with instruction cards explaining the purpose of the activity. Children and adults can come and go between the tables & the play areas. The activities focus on building language, cognitive (thinking) skills, social emotional learning (soft skills) and fine/gross motor skills. After play time, everyone cleans up and there is organized circle time for parents and children. This time includes a variety of things such as music and movement, gross motor activities and story time. This is where concepts are taught around various themes such as zoo animals, seasons, transportation and community helpers, to name a few. Following the large group circle, parents go with the parent educator for parent discussion time. Topics are determined by parent need and interest, or are identified by the parent educator. All focus on ways parents can help their children learn and grow. Andy and Ashley Cartier, ECFE participants share, "Our first son didn't go to daycare, and ECFE really helped with his social skills. But more than that, having a group of parents to talk with was so helpful. It's great to bounce ideas off them and gather some new perspectives on parenting issues. It's practically a support group for parents, helping us all understand that we aren't alone in our struggles." The importance of the parent as first teacher is emphasized throughout ECFE programming. During parent discussion time, children are with a para-educator, having a healthy snack and more story time, to build language.
ECFE programming is paid through a small levy through community service and fees from families. The fees are based on income and number of children a family brings to the program. Fees range from $0 (for families with incomes under $20,000) to $35 for families with 1 child making over $40,000 ($45 for two or more children). For the evening class, there is an additional $30 to cover the cost of a light supper. These fees cover the full 8 week session and no one is turned away because they are unable to pay.
Current ECFE participant Allison Marquis sums it up clearly when she states, “ECFE has brought many positive things to my family. Being from out of town, ECFE introduced my children and I to the school, local events, and peers. Both my children and I have met some of our best friends through ECFE. I have gained knowledge about parenting, what is expected of my children as they enter school, and about the services available to us and others through school and in our community. ECFE has also given me many tools to use in my parenting journey, both through parent education and peer conversation. Through my 7 years participaing in Fosston ECFE, I have found support through some trying times and also have had the opportunity to be support for others. My children have learned the basics of being in a classroom setting, making their transition to school less daunting. I believe ECFE is at least partially responsible for my children’s early successes and confidence in school.”
ECFE is one program that ISD 601 offers under the early childhood umbrella. ECFE classes are held at Fosston High School, in the former home ec classrooms. Watch future editions of The Greyhound Corner for information about the 3 and 4 year old school readiness programs. For more information, go to the district webpage at fosston.k12.mn.us and select the “Community Education” link.
Rolnick, A. & R. Grunewald. (March, 2003) Early Childhood Development: Economic Development With a High Public Return. Fed Gazette.
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