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Touring Clinton County's 'Paths to Quality'

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PRE-K: Community Schools of Frankfort Superintendent Don DeWeese speaks to guests inside Blue Ridge’s pre-K classroom. Suncrest also has a pre-K classroom.
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MEGHAN’S DAYCARE: Meghan Huffer, center, fields questions from guests including Community Schools of Frankfort Superintendent Don DeWeese during the first stop on Wednesday’s “Windshield Tour.”
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LEARNING LADDER: Sarabeth Huffer, 3, plays with toy tools at one of the YMCA Learning Ladder’s new learning environments.

By AARON KENNEDY - akennedy@ftimes.com

The Early Learning Clinton County Coalition took a “Windshield Tour” of Meghan’s Daycare, Blue Ridge Elementary and the YMCA’s Learning Ladder on Wednesday to showcase improvements made possible by a grant awarded to the coalition last spring.

In May, Indiana’s Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning (OECOSL), a division of the Indiana Family and Social Service Administration (FSSA), awarded $315,105.66 to the ELCCC to help bolster the community’s early learning services.

The need for the grant became clear when the ELCCC did not qualify for an “On My Way Pre-K” grant due to a lack of facilities that were certified as Level 3 (planned curriculum) or Level 4 (national accreditation) by the Indiana Paths to Quality childcare quality program.

“The state went ahead and created this opportunity where the counties that didn’t have a chance to have Paths to Quality could get money to work up to getting those (providers) back into Paths to Quality so, when the opportunity opens again to go after those big dollars, we are ready for it,” ELCCC member and United Way of Clinton County Executive Director Carolina Booth said.

“Because we do not have those (Level 3 or 4 providers), this new grant was established,” Healthy Communities of Clinton County’s Amy Smith said. “And our town was mentioned in the grant to encourage us to apply because they do not want us to be a desert in terms of having those facilities.

“When we knew about the grant, we invited all the school corporations in the county and any daycare facility to be a part of it. When it all fell into place, we ended up with Meghan’s Daycare, the Y’s child care, and then we have the school (Community Schools of Frankfort), so it was really neat how it all fell in place, having the three different types of locations.”

Once all the stakeholders met at the Clinton County Family YMCA and boarded a CSF school bus, the first stop of the tour was Meghan’s Daycare where grant money went toward the creation of separate learning centers, including ones for dramatic play, art, writing, math, science and a sensory table.

“The grant has been a huge help,” owner Meghan Huffer said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without it, or I would have been working forever to do it, so I am very thankful and happy that we got it. I have always wanted to go to Paths to Quality Level 3, so this helps me get there. And all the kids love all the different centers.”

Meghan’s Daycare currently has eight children but has the capacity for 12.

The next stop on the tour was Blue Ridge Elementary where CSF Superintendent Don DeWeese showed the school’s pre-K classroom.

“For us, we were looking to add 44 students in pre-K – 22 here at Blue Ridge and 22 at Suncrest,” DeWeese said. “That is where we were at. And we were able to pay for a teacher in each classroom and a para-professional. We also were able to purchase curriculum, supplies and materials. Forty-four students that will be in our kindergartens next year are having a chance at a quality, pre-K experience. We celebrate that because it is such a positive thing for our families, and we feel like it is such a great, long-term investment for our community.”

The tour concluded at the YMCA where Director of Child Care Services Denise Bushman showcased the Learning Ladder’s newly-renovated classrooms complete with learning centers.

“We were actually the recipient of two grants,” Bushman said. “We had a ($100,000) renovation grant and then we had a grant for the educational component. We are on the fast track. By probably spring, we should be a Level 3. We are moving fast.

“We do child care and preschool,” she added. “A lot of people don’t know that about us. We always had been more of a child care facility. So, we open at 6 a.m. We are child care until about 9 a.m., and then we go into preschool mode until about 3:30 p.m. or 4 p.m., and then we are back into a child care mode. So, parents can send their kids here and work and have their kids taken care of, but they are also getting preschool.”

Bushman also mentioned that the Learning Ladder preschool program at the YMCA has 10 to 12 spots currently available for ages 3-5.

President of the YMCA and Clinton County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shan Sheridan closed the event by speaking on the importance of pre-K education and its role in the local economy.

“There has been an increase in the desire from the economic development world of how we need to play a better role in early childhood learning,” he said. “Not only does it make sense for the present day worker - we know working in industry that the No. 1 reason for absenteeism in the industrial park is not their sickness but their child being sick. … But we know the more that we can invest in a young life, (the more) it is going to pour out. I believe, personally, that if we can touch these young lives and get them to the point where they have some self-esteem, self-confidence and they can start learning to read … the more educated that you are, the (more) opportunity you have to go out and become successful.”