Ounce of prevention, pound of cure | Guest Column

With support from United Way, the Primary Intervention Program helps young children succeed in school. - San Juan County United Way/Contributed
With support from United Way, the Primary Intervention Program helps young children succeed in school.
— image credit: San Juan County United Way/Contributed

By Elli Gull

United Way of San Juan County has invested in local PIP programs for over 18 years. PIP helps preschool to 3rd grade children who are struggling with issues which interfere with school success.

There are five PIP programs countywide, where trained adult “Special Pals” help each child learn about themselves, identify feelings and develop interpersonal skills. Results are measured annually and are consistently positive.

We all benefit when children succeed in school, and helping the children most in need at this stage is an important investment in our community.

Here is just one example from the literally hundreds of success stories:

Mason (name changed), a 6-year-old boy, moved to the island and after being here less than two weeks, lost a close family member in an accidental tragedy.

His parents had not managed to find consistent work, and they were in danger of being homeless, as well as without adequate food and health services. The child would not talk in his school classroom, never smiled, and was not learning. He was referred to PIP and began one-on-one session with a Special Pal in the program. He bonded to her over time, seeking her out on the playground and in the hallways between activities.

Slowly, he began to participate in the classroom more, making eye contact with the teacher and raising his hand occasionally. With more help from his Special Pal, he began to identify someone to make friends with in his grade. By the end of the school year, he had more than one friendship and began smiling.

By finding someone he could trust and he knew would help him, he took some risks to join the elementary school community and begin a journey of success.

Each PIP program struggles to find funding while facing increased need to help more students. Amara Zee from FHES PIP said,

“Every year we don’t know what funding we will have. Private funding would be helpful, especially if it was a yearly amount that programs could count on. We continue to have a waiting list and just don’t have enough time in the day to meet the need.”

Contributions from the community are critical to each PIP program. Without PIP, many children each year will be unable to access this important resource, and will therefore be unable to achieve the success they deserve in school.

The great thing about United Way is that one gift helps dozens of carefully screened programs in San Juan County, including PIP. Donations can be designated to specific programs. The hope is that islanders will step up and show their support to help these programs, not only to continue, but to expand to help more kids.

Joyce Sobel, from the San Juan Island Family Resource Center (Head Start PIP) said, “In these times of increased knowledge of the importance of the early years for future development and learning, PIP is an invaluable early intervention program that will alleviate potential problems in school and society for years to come.”

— Editor’s note: Elli Gull is director of United Way San Juan County


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