Toyota helping expand early childhood education program into Putnam, Cabell, Wayne

Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia, which operates a factory in Buffalo, is donating $34,500 to expand an early childhood education program into West Virginia.

Buffalo Elementary in Putnam County, Highlawn Elementary in Cabell County and East Lynn Elementary in Wayne County will pilot the Toyota bornlearning Academies this fall, said Emily Pratt, director of communications and national service programs for The Education Alliance.

The Education Alliance, a West Virginia nonprofit advocating for quality public education, will use the Toyota grant to help schools host the program, which targets disadvantaged families with children up to age five.

“If it’s successful we’ll expand to possibly additional schools and additional counties,” Pratt said.

Amelia Courts, The Education Alliance’s president and chief executive officer, said schools canvass their communities for families to take part.

During each workshop, schools bring in families for free dinner before splitting the parents and children into separate groups. Courts said the parents learn skills such as nutrition and the value of routines like “bath, book, bed” while children take part in a fun topic-based project before the adults and kids reconvene for a group activity.

Courts said the program targets Title 1 schools, which serve impoverished communities. Parents in these communities may have had bad relationships with the school system growing up, and she said the program allows the parents to meet their children’s future principal and other school workers in a low-stress environment before their kids enter kindergarten.

“It builds an early, positive relationship between the school and the family,” she said.

In 2009, the United Way of Greater Cincinnati began the bornlearning Academy program in Kentucky with help from the Kenton County school district and Northern Kentucky University, according to the program’s website. In 2012, Toyota began funding the United Way to expand the program under its name. It has committed to funding 62 Kentucky schools through 2017.

Geri Willis, coordinator of the Ashland Family Resource Center, helps facilitate the program at Kentucky’s Crabbe Elementary. She says the program, in its third year at Crabbe, has six sessions before graduation and teaches parents to take advantage of routine moments with their children to teach.

“If you’re in the car with a child and you stop at a stop sign,” Willis said, parents should ask, “‘What shape is that sign? What color is that sign? What letters are on that sign?’”

She said that Toyota didn’t alter the curriculum of the program when it began sponsoring, and added that other businesses in her community chipped in for food and books to supplement Toyota’s funding.

Millie Marshall, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia, said in a news release that the company is committed “to helping develop the workforce for the future, not just for Toyota but for all business and industry.”

“And research has shown that setting that future worker on the path to success really begins at birth and with directed parent education,” Marshall continued.

Courts said preliminary results in Kentucky show the program is positively affecting school performance. Willis said that the lessons taught can benefit parents of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

“I would recommend it very highly,” Willis said. “... We’re seeing benefits with these parents and their kids.”

Buffalo Elementary parents interested in the program can call Pam Smith or Jennifer Boggs at 304-937-2651 for more information.

Reach Ryan Quinn at or 304-348-1254.

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