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Free Richland, Pasco program can help parents, child care providers do more for kids

Childcare trainer talks about program

Erin Tomlinson, a trainer with the Partners for Early Learning, talks about the program.
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Erin Tomlinson, a trainer with the Partners for Early Learning, talks about the program.

Parents can add a new question to their list when talking to childcare providers: “What will you teach my child?”

With more importance being placed on getting children ready for school, Partners for Early Learning expanded a free training program designed to help everyone from grandmothers to childcare professionals learn more about getting children ready for kindergarten.

The classes, in a partnership with the Pasco School District, also will be in Spanish.

The program started in 2013 in Richland. The school district saw an increase in how many students were receiving free and reduced lunches, said Karen Weakley, Partners’ board president.

Districts use the rate as a gauge of how many low-income families they have, and Richland saw its rate go from 22 percent to 33 percent between 2003-13.

The district also saw more students who were struggling when they started the school year, and officials were looking for a way to help them before they reached kindergarten, Weakley said.

The first five years of a child’s life create their educational foundation, she said. Not only do they learn basic information like colors, they also learn how to interact with others, so they are better prepared to learn when they start school.

If a child starts off behind, they are more likely to stay behind, Weakley said.

The solution: provide training for the people who spend hours with the child while parents work.

In our trainings, there is always an opportunity for them to talk to each other, and ask, ‘Did you try that?’ ‘Did that work for you?’ ‘What else could we do?’

Karen Weakley, Partners for Early Learning

Providers learn practical and theoretical lessons from the trainers. The sessions, which normally run about two hours, bring in people from the school districts, the Educational Service District and other programs, such as the Kennewick-based READY! for Kindergarten.

Surveys about the program find that care providers appreciate that there are materials and it’s something they can use right away.

“In our trainings, there is always an opportunity for them to talk to each other and ask, ‘Did you try that?’ ‘Did that work for you?’ ‘What else could we do?’ ” Weakley said.

The Richland training sessions, which normally attract 50 to 60 providers, are successful in helping children, said Katey Bryan, Richland’s early childhood education coordinator.

Along with giving providers information they can use, the training helps children with transitioning to school, she said.

“We’ve created partnerships between our kinder teachers and the providers that feed into those schools,” Bryan said. “So it’s really helped them know what’s expected of them.”

The training sessions are free.

The problem for Pasco was that the Spanish-speaking providers couldn’t understand the English-only material.

The material’s now translated into Spanish, and the partnership also is helping with the training.

Since starting in January, the training attracted 65 to 70 people.

“As part of our early learning initiative, we’re trying to saturate our community to reach kids,” said Kristi Docken, Pasco’s director of special services and early intervention.

Weakley estimates between the two training sessions, the program reaches 1,200 children across Benton and Franklin counties and even into the nearby counties.

The training sessions are free.

The Richland sessions are held on the third Thursdays of each month, and the Pasco trainings on the fourth Thursday at the school district offices. They start at 6:30 p.m.

For more information, contact Partners for Early Learning at partners@partnersforearlylearning.org.

Cameron Probert: 509-582-1402, @cameroncprobert

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