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VIRTUAL ABCs: Nonprofit preschool offers online program for families

By Ryan Trares -

9/6/20 6:17 PM

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, preschool-aged kids are missing out on valuable early education experiences.

Families have fewer options to help their kids build foundational skills that will impact academic success for their entire lives. They can’t get the early education opportunities they need.

So one area nonprofit is going to bring preschool to those families.

Early Learning Community, a nonprofit preschool operating in New Whiteland created a virtual preschool experience this school year. ELC at Home, which first started in the spring when schools closed due to the pandemic, has been greatly expanded with the help of a $5,000 emergency grant from the Johnson County Community Foundation.

"What I’m finding is, every day, families are having a hard time making a decision. So it’s either for financial reasons, but mostly for COVID reasons they’re not sending them," said Dawn Underwood, director of Early Learning Community "We created this virtual preschool as an option for families."

Early Learning Community is a nonprofit community preschool, providing services to children ages 3 to 5. Preschool leaders developed a curriculum to ensure that kids are ready for kindergarten.

Points of emphasis center on kindergarten readiness using programs such as Handwriting Without Tears to teach writing letters and three different types of social-emotional learning.

Kindergarten readiness remains a challenge for schools, not just in Johnson County, but throughout Indiana, Underwood said. In Johnson County, 2.1% of children were kept for a second year of kindergarten, according to the Indiana Department of Education. That cost county schools more than $259,000.

In an attempt to reach all families, including those who do not feel comfortable with in-person learning yet, virtual preschool was the way to go.

Early Learning Community teachers put together a curriculum with Waterford, a company that specializes in using innovative technologies to form early education home programs, among other options, that deliver high-quality and equitable experiences for all learners.

"We didn’t want COVID to prevent children from having the opportunity for a quality preschool experience," said Julie Welling, who teaches the virtual preschool for Early Learning Community.

The format offers children a variety of ways to learn. The preschool includes one weekly live Zoom circle time to connect with the teacher and classmates.

"Kids are able to meet with each other, play games, read stories, sing songs — all of the things other kids are doing in preschool," Welling said.

Two weekly on-demand interactive learning videos offer additional opportunities for students to expand their knowledge base.

Parents can access individualized online learning activities that come with teacher guidance, and receive take-home packets of materials that are used during circle time and home learning activities.

Through the interactive videos, children learn social-emotional skills, such as identifying and managing feelings, following directions and participating in whole-group instruction.

"They’re still learning those social-emotional skills of raising their hands, waiting their turn, those kinds of things," Welling said.

They’ll tackle literacy exercises to practice letter recognition and vocabulary, work on fine motor skills and delve into math basics, problem solving, creativity and STEAM concepts.

Organizers also added a second component, allowing families to sign up for a Waterford Early Education’s online platform for $25 a month.

The program was successful in the spring, and Early Learning Community educators wanted to open it up to more families if they wanted to take part. They also wanted to make it affordable to all families, Underwood said.

To fund that initiative, the organization reached out to the Johnson County Community Foundation. Since March, the foundation has awarded $50,609 to local agencies and organizations to address challenges impacting the community due to the pandemic. The foundation, as well as a number of donors, have created a fund of more than $82,000 for the emergency grants.

Past recipients include the Interchurch Food Pantry and KIC-IT to address food insecurity, and Turning Point Domestic Violence to handle expanded case management during the crisis.

"The needs of agencies is all over the board. We’re trying to still wrap our hands around the current needs that aren’t being funded by government programs," said Gail Richards, president and CEO of the community foundation.

The most recent round of emergency grants included $1,000 for the Humane Society of Johnson County, to help with emergency spay and neutering costs during the pandemic, and the $5,000 for Early Learning Community.

"We’re going to help them with the kids whose parents don’t want them to go back into a congregant setting with others. This gives them an affordable option for accessing preschool activities that will help them get ready for whatever school looks like in the future," Richards said.

For the families who have already registered for virtual preschool, the response has been positive, Welling said.

"Our families are appreciative of this option, because for a lot of them, their kids can’t attend preschool, or they don’t feel comfortable sending them," she said. "At least they have this option."

As an added bonus, this format allows Early Learning Community to extend the opportunity to those outside Johnson County, Underwood said.

"We can and will serve people in and outside of Johnson County. We can offer this to families whether they live in the county or not," she said.

At a glance

ELC at Home

What: A virtual preschool program that will provide an at-home learning opportunity for children during the coronavirus pandemic.

Who: Early Learning Community, a nonprofit preschool serving children ages 3 to 5.

Includes:

  • One weekly Live Zoom circle time to connect with teacher and classmates

  • Two weekly on-demand interactive learning videos

  • Individualized online learning activities with teacher guidance

  • Take home packets that include materials to use during circle times and home learning activities

What will children learn: Weekly videos will include opportunities for developing social-emotional skills, literacy, fine motor skills, math, problem solving, creativity and STEAM.

Cost: $150 per month

Secondary option: Families can also choose another option, offering access to a wealth of online materials Waterford, a company specializing in early education, including at-home programs. This option is $25 per month.

How to register: jclearningcenters.com and click on ELC at Home, or call Julie at 317-530-9999.


The Johnson County Learning Center, a Greenwood-based preschool for children in the community, is getting some help paying for renovations of its new location in Whiteland thanks to a grant from Early Learning Indiana, an Indianapolis nonprofit.

The preschool program is currently housed at Westwood Elementary School, but will move to a former eye doctor’s office at 430 N. U.S. 31 in Whiteland after the building is renovated, said Dawn Underwood, the preschool’s director.

Early Learning Indiana has funded $1 million in early childhood education grants around the state, including $75,000 to the Johnson County Learning Center, with money from a 2014 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. that is being distributed now, according to the organization’s website.

Continue reading the story here.


[exerpt]

Early Learning Community was chosen as one of nine pre-K programs in the state to receive the Strong Start for Kindergarten Prize. The school received $5,000, funded from the state’s Preschool Development Grant.

With the money, officials plan to provide kindergarten-readiness camps for children over the summer, as well as offer sessions for parents to learn more about the process.

Early Learning Community is a nonprofit community preschool, which provides services to children ages 3 to 5. The preschool operates out of a pair of Greenwood Community elementary schools, Northeast and Westwood.

“Because preschool is not affordable, we want to do more in between the school years. These camps will let us share information with parents about what to expect when their kids go to kindergarten,” said Dawn Underwood, preschool director of Early Learning Communtiy. “We want to be a resource to families in our community who don’t understand the process and for children who have never been to preschool.”

For the full article, click here.


November 07, 2019

By Early Learning Community Preschool


Early Learning Community was fortunate to be one of the recipients selected for The Strong Start for Kindergarten Prize competition was a new initiative funded by Indiana’s Preschool Development Grant.

Winners of this grant are programs that have proven to provide children with a strong foundation for their future elementary journey. We are beyond grateful to have been chosen to receive this award!

For more details on this grant and to see other programs that were chosen, please click here.

As always, we want to thank our families and our community for their continued support of our program!


October 08, 2019

By Early Learning Community Preschool

You have probably never heard of a child care desert before, as this was news to us recently as well. A child care desert is any census tract with more than 50 children under age 5 that contains either no child care providers or so few options that there are more than three times as many children as licensed child care slots.

As it turns out, our area of Johnson County is part of a child care desert. We have applied for an Early Learning Indiana grant to address this issue in our county so that we can provide high quality affordable child care for our community.

For more information on this grant and to see the finalists, click here.