Preschool openings a new concern

For the first time in years, a local preschool program has vacancies.

Federal Way’s Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) provides preschool education, meals, health services and social services for children. It also provides employment, health and education assistance for parents.

“For the first time in the 10 years I’ve been involved in the program, we have room for additional children, 10 of them,” said Coke Devine, the program’s Federal Way area coordinator.

The program accommodates 144 children and operates out of four sites in Federal Way – Twin Lakes Elementary, Sunnycrest Elementary, Decatur High School and Federal Way High School. Each site has room for 36 children, and three of the sites are either full or have short waiting lists.

However, in the Twin Lakes and Decatur areas enrollment is down, Devine said. Kids from the Olympic View area also can attend at these sites.

“We don’t have a definite idea why enrollment is down there, though we’ve been doing a lot of speculating,” Devine said. “Rents in that area have gone up and families with lower incomes have had to move. It’s possible that families are keeping their children home because of Sept. 11, but you’d think it would affect the whole city if that were so.

She also said more mothers might be working, thus need full-time day care, which ECEAP does not provide.

She encouraged parents with eligible children to sign them up.

“Children deserve this program,” Devine said. “It provides them with early educational and socialization opportunities they might not otherwise have due to their family’s circumstances. The program will assist families to locate the employment and education resources available in the community.”

Maureen Sargent, a kindergarten teacher at Sunnyside who sees many ECEAP graduates in her class, said the big benefit for children who go through the program is improved social skills.

“They respond better to another adult, they work together well in a group, they already have a group of friends, so school in not as scary,” Sargent said. “Academically, they gain experience with clay, paint, scissors and glue; they have an idea of letters, and know how to write their name.”

Cathy Wilson is one of ECEAP’s family support specialists. She works with the children’s parents to acquaint them with the community resources that and supports them in their efforts to improve their lives.

“Last year, there was one Spanish-speaking family in which the mother knew no English,” Wilson said. “She volunteered at the program where her daughter attended in order to learn English. I helped her enroll in Highline’s ESL program and helped her get financial aid to enroll in a pre-employment program as a teacher’s aide. Now she speaks English beautifully and works as an English/Spanish interpreter and a substitute teacher’s aide.”

Program coordinators aren’t the only ones to laud ECEAP’s benefits.

Nine years ago, Korlette Bird’s son was the first of the family’s children who benefitted from ECEAP.

“Allen, age 13, is currently in the college prep program at Federal Way Academy, and I attribute his success to his early learning in ECEAP,” Bird said. “My other children are also doing well in school, thanks to their time in ECEAP.”

She said that because ECEAP stresses parental involvement, she also benefitted from the program.

“The skills I learned as a volunteer inspired me to go back to school in early childhood education and eventually I opened a family day care business,” Bird said. “The income from this business permitted my husband to be able to go back to school and obtain a four-year college degree. ECEAP empowered me and I attribute a great deal of our family’s success to this program.”

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