In 2012, the Community Foundation of Wabash County committed one half of its unrestricted grantmaking to a set of strategic initiatives designed to help advance the educational attainment level in the county. Instead of waiting for needs to arise, the Foundation, in partnership with others, asked where it could apply grants strategically to change conditions at the source of community problems. The persistent problems of unemployment, hunger, poverty, and illiteracy repeatedly led back to low levels of education.
Strategic programs to support education dovetail with the regional work of the Big Goal Collaborative, a program of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership for Economic Development. The partners of the collaborative are working to raise the number of working adults with post-secondary education or high quality industry certifications from 32% to 60% by 2025.
To focus its impact, the Foundation supports education programs for both ends of the educational pipeline--preschool children and adult learners. These are groups for whom there are no public school services. At the preschool level, CFWC funds Begindergarten, a partnership with all county school districts to provide a six-week jump start program for five-year-olds who will enter kindergarten without any preschool experience. Research shows significant academic, social, emotional, and economic advantages later in life for children who receive structured education before school begins.
Using an assessment tool called DIAL 4, Wabash County schools can show how much gain students make from the first day of Begindergarten to the last. These first time students are soaking up the basic building blocks of learning and are more on par with their peers who come to school from a preschool. Teachers spend less time remediating inexperienced children and can intervene with special services when necessary. In 2013, the program served 47 children, most of whom made significant gains toward kindergarten readiness.
“My students made tremendous strides from the beginning of the summer to the end. They grew both academically and in maturity. It was so rewarding to see the amount of growth they each made over the six weeks that we worked with them.” Jody Rockwell, Begindergarten Teacher.
“It is always amazing to observe how quickly a child can grow and develop. Many of our students came to us not knowing the letters in the alphabet, or even how to write their name. By the last day, all students could spell and write their name and many knew the entire alphabet and were identifying their numbers to 10. The growth was astounding!” Kathy Domenico, Begindergarten Teacher.
Enrollment for Begindergarten takes place at Kindergarten Round up each spring or through the elementary school in each district. Contact the school principal for more information.
Learn With Me
Learn With Me is an innovative program of the Wabash County YMCA and its partners, including the CFWC, to provide early childhood education to children in the daily care of a family member, a family friend, or a neighbor. Twice each week caregivers come with children zero to five years old and participate with them in learning activities. Children are exposed to a dozen activity centers, healthy snacks, and enriching play.
This format is designed to be as nurturing for adult caregivers as it is for children. The “babysitter,” who is often a child’s first teacher in life, gets coaching in child development and learning. Learn With Me also provides caregivers a place to gather with other adults, heading off the isolation of staying home with children. Everybody benefits.
Learn With Me groups meet in Wabash Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 AM to 12 PM in the Wabash Presbyterian Church Education Building (123 W. Hill St.), and in North Manchester, the group meets Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 AM to 12 PM in the MCS Admin Building (404 W 9th St.). For more information, call Amanda Layman-Jones or Joanna Case at 260-563-9622.
School Readiness Network
Preschool providers and public school kindergarten teachers meet monthly through the school year to share information about school readiness. The network has created an easy-to-use assessment tool for preschools to use as a “report card” to parents and to more uniformly prepare children for school. The assessment reveals what children know about letters, numbers, concepts, and social/emotional skills, like blowing their noses, taking turns, and going to the bathroom by themselves. The network has also established good communication between grade levels. It helps preschool families find the services their children will need in public school and gives kindergarten teachers a glimpse of the incoming class and how they can be prepared to help them on the first day of school.
Learn More Center
Only 28% of high school graduates in Wabash County enroll in college or career training after high school. Family obligations, economic difficulties, jobs, and low literacy are barriers to finishing high school and gathering college credit or career training. CFWC supports many of the programs of the Learn More Center in North Manchester and Wabash that help adult learners pass a high school equivalency test or prepare for college-level studies. Classes are free. Learn More holds classes in Wabash at the Wabash Alliance Church and in North Manchester at the Town Life Center. Visit www.learnmorecenter.org for more information.