This is the second in a series of articles, written by Christina Brown, that show how community members are using the Pathway to Student Success. The Pathway was created and endorsed by local youth and adults as a guide to engage everyone in building strong community by supporting youth on their journey to becoming the next generation of skilled workers, engaged citizens and civic leaders.
To learn more about Invest Early, visit http://www.investearly.org.
By Christina Brown for IAISS
Invest Early Director Jan Reindl recalls bringing a group of preschool children and their parents to the Grand Rapids Public Library.
“There were parents who had never been there before,” said Reindl, “They had no idea we had such an amazing and free resource available to them. They were excited to learn that this was a place they could go with their families.”
Reindl said it is those types of meaningful connections between parent, child and community that Invest Early is all about.
“Every parent wants what is best for their child,” Reindl said. “And if they find someone they can trust to provide them with good info, it makes a difference.”
Invest Early is one of the many programs in Itasca County working to meet an important goal on the Pathway for Student Success: Every child will be prepared for school.
Ensuring every child is prepared for school is challenging. Poverty, transportation, developmental delays, and a lack of family support can make it hard for kids to get ready for kindergarten.
That’s where Invest Early steps in.
Invest Early is a comprehensive school readiness program in Itasca County for infants through age five. It is free to those who qualify, although some children are admitted on a sliding fee scale. There are currently more than 350 students in the Invest Early classes in Grand Rapids, Marble, Taconite, Deer River, Nashwauk and Keewatin, and just as many kids on a waiting list.
For infants and toddlers, Invest Early is a safe, consistent, learning-friendly environment. For the older children, Invest Early offers preschool coursework in partnership with Head Start and area public schools. Invest Early also provides extended care before and after classes.
“We partner with parents to increase their understanding of their child’s skills,” said Reindl, who is also a member of the Student Success core team. “In our infant rooms, we talk to them about what their babies are doing and give them information on good health, safety, and nutrition.”
In the toddler and preschool classroom, children learn how to be learners while mastering their letters, shapes and numbers.
“One of the program’s strengths is that we are always looking at how we are doing,” Reindl said. “If we see kids are struggling with a particular skill like rhyming, we’ll spend extra time with those kids in small groups. We’ll reach out to parents with ideas for how they can support their kids at home by showing them games they can play with their child.”
Support for young families also extends outside the classroom.
“If we find that a family is in need of resources – like employment, heating or transportation – we can connect them with the community resources,” Reindl said. “We also work closely with Adult Basic Education for parents who want to work on their GED or go to college. We want their children here. So if there is a barrier to making that happen, we work with parents to remove it.”
The work that Invest Early is doing is making a difference. According to a study done by Wilder Research, Invest Early children performed better than their low-income classmates in Kindergarten, and are narrowing the achievement gap with children from higher-income families.
“It’s amazing how so many organizations have come together to support young families,” said Mary Kosak, program officer at the Blandin Foundation and a member of the Student Success core team. “But this is just the beginning. If we know (from the Wilder work) that these kinds of whole-child supports work for a four year old, we want to provide them for a 6 year old, an 8 year old… all the way to career. The Pathway is our guide to achieving that success.”
“It starts early,” Reindl said. “If you build a strong foundation, then you can build from it. Each part is as important as the next and it starts at the beginning with healthy families.”