MCSD Whiteboard: Early Childhood Center seeks to turn young kids into young learners
That first day of school for a young child is hard to compare to much else in life.
The isolation and relative safety of infancy and the earliest years of childhood give way to a whole new world of vectors and variables for a youngster that are inescapably difficult to navigate. New people, new personalities, new routines, new places and so much more can and do challenge even the most confident little one.
But what if there were a way to ease into that new world? To soften the glare and shock of the bright light of entry into larger society? There is. It’s called preschool.
In Moffat County School District, that’s the Early Childhood Center. Located in the former East Elementary School building for the past five years alongside the district offices, ECC is a place for our youngest community members to learn to be members of a community.
“Our mission is to help young children learn how to be learners,” said Stephanie Davis, director of the ECC. “Learn how to be part of a classroom, to come and express their needs and wants using their words. It’s all about being prepared to be future learners.”
This school year, ECC is educating 153 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds.
“I’m not ever sure the community realizes we’re that big of a program,” Davis said. “We’re all about building relationships with young children and their families with the goal of creating lifelong learners.”
That purpose drives the staff and faculty at ECC, Davis said.
“It motivates every single staff member in the building,” she said. “We work really hard to meet kids and their needs wherever they come to us. We have lots of challenges in our journey, welcoming students without their parents, often for the first time. We love this population because they’re cute, because they have unlimited potential, and because they’re just so darn curious.”
Students at ECC can attend at 3 or 4. 4-year-olds can choose between full- and half-day classes, and depending on the time of their class, will eat breakfast or lunch at school. Center time, which is largely learning through play, is a big part of a class day, as are small group times and individualized instruction. Outdoor or gym play are part of the day, too, and language enrichment is built into almost everything.
Students are also assessed for developmental level, and teachers work with parents to prepare detailed plans to reach critical milestones in a youngster’s growth. Parent-teacher conferences are a big opportunity for these planning sessions to take place.
“We really want to build that home-to-school connection,” Davis said.
With a family relationship, along with the common occurrence of multiple children in a family coming through the program, Davis and her teachers have had the opportunity to see many of their students develop beyond the preschool environment, which, of course, is the point.
“It’s so fun through the years watching our kids leave the program and thrive in their next environment,” Davis said. “Often we don’t see the little guys come back because they’re big, so we work with families and sometimes have three or four siblings coming through. It’s a huge celebration as they move on, and I know kindergarten teachers in our district are excited to receive kids coming from preschool.”
Among other efforts to ensure student success, ECC does a warm handoff with the district’s kindergartens every spring. The goal is to help a child be ready to progress, and anything that helps is within the preschool’s purview. Between nine students, with nine lead teachers and a support teacher in each class, the team is a passionate group of educators working hard to ensure the success of their little charges.
“This is a group that loves teaching young children,” Davis said. “We laugh together, cry together, train together. I certainly have been blessed to have additional support in the building this year. We’ve added an instructional coach and a full-time counselor. We’re all here to help these students have the best start to their education. We take that very seriously.”
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