Investing in island youth

San Juan County Council Chairman Rick Hughes believes that investing in early learning benefits the islands – and the country – tomorrow.

“I am very fortunate to serve on the the executive committee of the opportunity council and the family resource center board, and at the county council we are learning that taking care of young children prepares them in many ways for their future,” he said.

In conjunction with the San Juan County Early Learning Coalition and local education programs, the council has proclaimed April 24-28 the “Week of the Young Child.”

The proclamation reads: “These organizations are working to improve early learning opportunities for children and families, including early literacy programs, that can provide a foundation of learning for children in San Juan County, Washington. Teachers and others who make a difference in the lives of young children in San Juan County, Washington deserve thanks and recognition. Public policies that support early learning for all young children are crucial to young children’s futures.”

Research has shown that pre-kindergarten education from ages birth to five plays a vital role in children’s cognitive, physical and emotional development that will carry them through school and into the workplace.

San Juan County has the following early learning opportunities: Orcas Island – Kaleidoscope Preschool and Childcare Center, Orcas Island Children’s House, Orcas Montessori School and Orcas Island Forest School; Lopez – Lopez Children’s Center; and San Juan Island – Children’s House Montessori School, Alphabet Soup Preschool and Child Care, Building Blocks Preschool, Lighthouse Preschool, San Juan Head Start and St. David’s Day School.

The San Juan County Early Learning Coalition is one of five counties represented in the regional Northwest Early Learning Coalition based out of Anacortes. The coalition’s purpose is to coordinate partnerships with early learning providers, align local efforts with statewide priorities and build public engagement.

In early April the coalition organized dinner and dialogue events with preschools and school district staff on Orcas and San Juan.

“Our coalition intention is for schools to corroboratively work together to give our children the strongest start possible in school,” said Ethna Flanagan, coordinator for the county’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program and a board member of the coalition. “We know from neuroscience that the first five years are crucial to brain development. High quality preschool programs have proven to have lasting effect on school success … We have a strong community that truly cares about its youth with a mission to continue to improve opportunities for children and families.”

Another of the coalition’s priorities is “Play and Learn,” which increases the number of high-quality playgroups. They are a chance for parents and caregivers to participate in fun learning activities every week. Lopez, San Juan and Orcas all offer the playgroups, which are a low-cost approach to increasing child and family engagement. Community leaders have been invited to a series of open houses April 27-29 on Orcas and San Juan to learn more about the program.

On Orcas, the play and learn group meets regularly on Thursday at the Funhouse Commons from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. On San Juan Island, the schedule is as follows: Thursdays at the San Juan Island Library from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and at the San Juan Island Resource Center on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and the last Saturday of every month for working families, and Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays for Spanish speakers; all classes meet from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. On Lopez, play and learn provides year-round full day and half day childcare for children 30 months through six years and a before and after kindergarten program at the Children’s Center.

Upcoming early learning events

On San Juan Island, the Family Umbrella Group provides pre-school scholarships to relieve the financial burden on families. The group serves 16 to 20 families per year and pays 95 percent of the tuition cost. The 19th annual fundraiser for the program will be on Friday, April 28 at the Mullis Center starting at 11 a.m. with a silent auction and piano music by David Bayley. There will be a wine bar and table service lunch by Coho Restaurant at noon. Full table reservations are available for parties of six or eight. Lunch (with vegetarian and gluten free options) will be followed by a dessert and live auction. Tickets are $30 in advance at Mystical Mermaid or $35 at the door. One hundred of the proceeds go to the Family Umbrella Group. For more information, call Alisha at 360-298-6546.

The San Juan Island Family Resource Center will hold its fourth annual kindergarten kick-off on Wednesday, May 17 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Dinner will be served in the elementary school cafeteria to incoming kindergarteners, their parents and/or their primary caregivers. After dinner the adults will have an opportunity to meet with school staff while the kids enjoy play and learn time.