By Lisa Capobianco
Seeing all Southington children have their early care and education needs met is a result that the Early Childhood Collaborative of Southington (ECCS) aims to achieve through its community plan, which the group unveiled last week, for the first time.
“I am excited about this opportunity to raise awareness about truly how important early childcare education is to Southington,” said Michelle Slimak, the co-chair of ECCS.
“This is our first plan ever put in to writing,” added Dr. Mary Yuskis, the new director of ECCS.
ECCS is a group of concerned parents, educators, early childcare and health providers, family support agencies, local businesses, faith leaders, and other members of the community who work together to ensure that “all Southington children enter school healthy and ready to learn.”
The group has committed to three goals: advocating for early childhood and preschool care, empowering parents and families, and being a wide ranging resource of community members for early childcare and education.
“We’re deeply invested in the growth, development and academic success of these children in Southington,” said Slimak, who noted national research indicating that children with a high quality preschool experience are more successful in school and later in life.
Over the years, ECCS has accomplished more support systems for Southington families, including the creation of the Family Resource Center, workshops for parents and early childcare providers and more recently, the creation of a more comprehensive, user-friendly website. The new website also features a link to the community plan, which has several indicators, including health and education, and can be easily modified and tracked at any point. The plan was made possible through a grant from the William Casper Graustein Memorial Fund and the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain.
“It will allow us to have a live, working document that we can refer to and update as the work progresses with the ECCS,” said Yuskis, who is responsible for ensuring that specific actions outlined in the community plan are completed and building existing partnerships in the community as well as seeking additional funds and collecting or monitoring data as the work of the plan begins.
“Over the course of the next year, the collaborative, together with community partners, will begin the work of implementing new services, initiatives to promote the health of education indicators that are outlined in our plan,” said Slimak.
During the “unveiling” event, Yuskis gave an overview of the community plan, which consists of 270 pages in print form. She highlighted successes of Southington, but also noted how the town can improve. Although Southington has a low teen birth and crime rate, the town can improve on the number of children with a preschool experience, said Yuskis. Through its research, ECCS noticed that even though Southington has seven nursery schools that serve 602 children, 414 children were enrolled in 2011.
“One of the things that ECCS is striving to do is to define what is a preschool experience,” said Yuskis, adding that different options qualify as a preschool experience, such as library programs or a music group.
Yuskis added ECCS discovered that costs played a major factor in the empty daycare spots. One action the ECCS has considered to increase the number of preschool experiences includes establishing a preschool experience scholarship committee to offer at least two scholarships to students in need. Yuskis said this would be established along with a partner of ECCS, the Age 3 to Grade 3 Collaborative, to help identify sources of funding for scholarships and to identify children who would benefit from them.
“There are not many opportunities that support children going into a nursery school, or a preschool,” said Yuskis. “We’ll look at what that research says, we’ll look at who we can partner with to address some of our issues, we’ll look at what has worked already…we’ll look at strategies we can put forth to support this indicator.”
During the event, Assistant Superintendent Karen Smith addressed the importance of early childhood education, noting the achievement gap that exists in the school district.
“There is a learning gap in Southington, there is an economic gap in Southington, there are gaps in and between our schools,” said Smith, adding that ECCS will successfully address these issues through its community plan. “There is a silent group of families and children who may not even be aware there is a family resource center in town, and there are free services available for parents and for children.”
Another indicator of the plan ECCS hopes to address is health, particularly in measuring the body mass index (BMI) of children and increasing the number of women receiving prenatal care.
“Only 49 percent of women in Southington reported having adequate prenatal care going into 2010,” said Yuskis, adding that data was a concern for ECCS, which will address that issue through partnerships with local hospitals and OBGYN centers.
Meredith Bandish, a speech and language pathologist in Southington is a supporter of ECCS, addressed the importance of proper prenatal care in women. Bandish said according to the March of Dimes, good prenatal care includes nutrition, frequent and routine prenatal exams, routine ultrasounds, routine screenings for blood pressure, blood type disorders
“Good prenatal care supports healthy birth weights, it reduces pre-term births, resulting in less health issues for babies in the long term,” said Bandish, adding that healthy habits adopted by mothers lead to healthy habits for their children as they develop. “Good prenatal care is also important for their mothers—it helps mom and health provider monitor her pregnancy, helps spot any potential health problems before they might become serious.”
For more information, visit the new ECCS website, http://www.southingtonearlychildhood.org/about-us/history-eccs/.
Southington is a “discovery” community of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, which supports the work of early childhood initiatives and indicators statewide. Graustein supports over 30 discovery communities throughout the state. The purpose of discovery communities is to improve the lives of children and families in Connecticut. In 2003, the Memorial Fund awarded Southington a grant to start the Early Childhood Collaborative.