The Early Learning Coalition of North Florida tells local Historic City News reporters that they understand that it really does take a village to raise a child. From assisting families in search of affordable childcare to hosting events and initiatives that promote reading, this local nonprofit serves Florida families in six counties, working every day to teach children early to love being learners.
Chief Executive Officer Dawn Bell told reporters that the organization currently serves nearly 4,000 school readiness children in St Johns, Baker, Bradford, Clay, Nassau, and Putnam County. The Early Learning Coalition also oversees the Voluntary Pre-K program for those counties.
“The Early Learning Coalition recognizes parents are their children’s primary first teachers. However, by participating in quality school readiness, like the Voluntary Pre-K program, children will be better prepared for school,” Bell said. “If you are a parent, caregiver or educator of a child ages birth to pre-kindergarten in our counties, we can assist you.”Dawn Bell, CEO
If you feel overwhelmed trying to find affordable childcare, or have a child with special needs, Early Learning Coalition of North Florida and their partner, Episcopal Children Services is available to assist you. They also offer a free Preschool Book Program, Reading Pals volunteer opportunities, and annual events to promote literacy among young children, up to five years of age.
VPK Pre-K Registration
Florida offers a free voluntary, pre-kindergarten (VPK) program, available to all four-year-old’s and some five-year-old’s within the state, regardless of income. The Early Learning Portal makes the application and registration process easier for parents by helping them with each step.
School Readiness Financial Help
Because parents need to work, the ELC can help alleviate the worry of where their children will be during the day. Designed to increase a child’s chances of achieving future success in school, the School Readiness Program gives working families the opportunity to obtain financial assistance.
Awards for the program are granted to families who meet certain income requirements, allowing parents to pay a co-payment based on a sliding fee scale. Plus, developmental screenings are conducted annually to chart individual student progress. Additional information for parents relating to School Readiness can be found at the following website, where parents can apply for service or schedule an appointment online: https://www.ecs4kids.org/programs/school-readiness/
Online Family Portal
The ELC offers a free online portal, easily managed from the comfort of home, or at an ELC office, and includes resources, referrals and information on school readiness and VPK programs for kids.
To counter rising costs in childcare, the ELC has developed their Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) specialists that are available to talk with parents, guiding and assisting them through the process of locating easily accessible, safe and affordable education.
Developmental Screening and Special Needs Services
The ELC assists with transition to mainstream child-care care by working with child-care providers to create inclusive programs for all children, especially children with special needs.
“We provide child screenings to identify potential developmental delays,” said Bell. “If identified, the child is referred to the appropriate community agencies for additional screening and assistance.”
Additional Educator Resources and Volunteers
The ELC also provides support to the educators behind their programs. Partnering with Episcopal Children’s Services, specialists can work with teachers on support initiatives, ongoing training and the Child Care Food Program — most of which are free of charge.
The group also manages a volunteer outreach program. Volunteers are screened and trained prior to entering a classroom and, as a whole, work together to provide weekly volunteer readers to students enrolled in childcares and preschools.
“Our volunteers are that extra special person coming in to see them each week who exposes our preschoolers to new books and shares their love of reading,” said Early Literacy Coordinator Joan Whitson. “The school staff has told me the children look forward to greeting the readers and go right to them when they arrive.”
If parents find they need support, have questions or would like to fill out the application form, computers are available and Early Learning Coalition partner, Episcopal Children’s Services, has staff available to help on-site. The main office for the Early Learning Coalition of North Florida is in St Augustine. However, parents can see Episcopal Children’s Services at any of their locations, in all six counties. The following is a list of Early Learning Coalition centers for parents:
St. Johns County:
5 Clark St.
St. Augustine, FL. 32084
418 South 8th St.
Macclenny, FL. 32063
1080 North Pine St.
Starke, FL. 32091
1845 Town Center Blvd. #150
Orange Park, FL 32003
96042 Lofton Square
Yulee, FL. 32097
(904) 432-0009 ext. 2626
821 State Road 19 South
Palatka, FL 32177
The Early Learning Coalition of North Florida, Inc., an independent nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, is supported by an active and engaged board of directors that are committed to bridging the gap between quality early education and Florida’s families with children from birth to five years.