Early childhood ed program expands to 7 new schools

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Parents, students, faculty members and volunteers celebrated at the inaugural Born Learning Academy graduation ceremony at Buffalo Elementary School. Buffalo was one of three West Virginia elementary schools involved in the pilot program, which is now expanding.

A program that seeks to teach parents and caregivers how to teach their young children is expanding its locations to Edgewood Elementary and six more West Virginia schools, with the help of a $52,000 grant from Toyota and a $38,200 grant from The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation.

The United Way Born Learning Academies, which began in neighboring Kentucky in 2009, spread to the Mountain State in 2014 with the help of a previous donation from Toyota, which says it has now donated about $130,500 to the programs.

Six elementary schools in five West Virginia counties — Putnam, Cabell, Wayne, Mason and Preston — have been hosting the program, which is meant to help prenatal through 5-year-old children and their families.

In the Capitol Thursday, Born Learning’s supporters announced both the new grants and the addition of seven more host schools for the 2016-17 school year, which has already started in most counties. Speakers highlighted the particular importance that learning in early childhood plays in students’ later success.

“The research is clear: When children start school behind, they often stay behind,” said Millie Marshall, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing of West Virginia, which has a factory in Putnam County.

The newly involved schools include six elementaries — Edgewood in Kanawha County, Hometown in Putnam County, Brookview in Boone County, Cranberry-Prosperity in Raleigh County, Blackshere Elementary in Marion County and New Manchester in Hancock County. The seventh new host school is Hamlin Prekindergarten-8 in Lincoln County.

Putnam has two existing programs at Buffalo and Poca elementaries, and the four other elementaries with existing programs are Highlawn in Cabell County, East Lynn in Wayne County, Leon in Mason County and Aurora in Preston County.

Amelia Courts, president and chief executive officer of The Education Alliance, a nonprofit that’s also supporting Born Learning, said 390 families have participated in West Virginia’s Born Learning Academies so far, and she anticipates adding another 200 or more families in the coming year.

She said schools canvass their communities for families to take part in the Born Learning Academies.

During each session — each program cycle features six free monthly workshops during the school year — schools bring in families for free dinner with teachers 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.

“Just little things like how you can use teachable moments — you pass a stop sign and you say ‘stop,’ and let your child recognize the letters there and the sounds there,” Courts said of what the workshops teach. “When you’re doing laundry, you fold the laundry and you count, one, two, three. Nutrition and sleep, those are just really fundamental things that a lot of families do not have the toolkit, so to speak, on how to help their children with those things.”

Courts said the program targets Title 1 schools, which have high student poverty levels, as well as schools with strong “preK environments.” She said she didn’t know how many schools applied to host Born Learning Academies for this school year, but said the application process is starting this fall for the next round of schools and she’d like more to apply.

“We’d love to double again,” Courts said.

In 2009, the United Way of Greater Cincinnati began the Born Learning program in Kentucky with help from the Kenton County school district and Northern Kentucky University, according to the program’s website.

To sign up for the programs at the various schools, you can call the schools at the following numbers or email the following individuals:

n Edgewood: Stacey Losh at slosh@mail.kana.k12.wv.us or 304-348-6635

n Hometown: Barbara Black at brlblack@k12.wv.us or 304-586-2395

n Buffalo: Pamela Smith at psmith@k12.wv.us or 304-429-2911

n Poca: Brittany Cochran at brittany.cochran@k12.wv.us or 304-755-7561

n Highlawn: Susan Porter at shporter@k12.wv.us or 304-528-5130

n Brookview: Rhonda Brown at r.brown@k12.wv.us or 304-369-1012

n Cranberry-Prosperity: Alica Lett at alett@k12.wv.us or 304-256-4588

n East Lynn: Jennifer McBride-Adkins at jnsmcbride3@yahoo.com or 304-849-3171

n Leon: Don Bower at dpbower@k12.wv.us or 304-458-1710

n Hamlin Pk-8: Dionne Lucas at glucas@k12.wv.us or 304-824-3036

n New Manchester: Cinthia Virtue at cvirtue@k12.wv.us or 304-564-3242

n Blackshere: Jean Hinzman at thinzman@k12.wv.us or 304-986-2707

n Aurora: Krista Hayes at kjhayes@k12.wv.us or 304-735-3781

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

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