- Published: January 09, 2017
- Written by Stephanie Thompson
Yoncalla Early Works (YEW) began in 2012 as a partnership between Yoncalla Elementary School, Children’s Institute, and The Ford Family Foundation. The Early Works initiative brings parents, schools, and communities together to improve school readiness and academic success for children from birth to third grade/eight years-old. It is designed to identify best practices that can be translated into policy at the local, regional, state, and federal levels to better support children and their families.
School Board Recognizes Preschool Student of the Month
A key strategy of the Yoncalla Early Works project is to embed early learning in the K-12 system. By connecting preschool to elementary school, kids and families recognize that education begins before kindergarten. The Yoncalla community is dedicated to Early Works and Preschool Promise. The Yoncalla School Board keeps preschool and kindergarten readiness in the public consciousness by featuring updates on early learning and Preschool Promise as monthly agenda items. Last November, the school board began recognizing preschoolers as nominees for the student of the month awards.
Oryan Kokos, age four, was the first preschool recipient of the student of the month award. He displayed remarkable composure as he received balloons and praise from teacher Megan Barber, “Oryan has grown so much over the past few months. As a class, we have been working on self-regulation, using our words to enter into play, and asking our peers to join in play with us. It has been so exciting seeing Oryan catch on to these concepts and begin to grow special friendships in the classroom!” Each student was asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. Oryan’s response: “Batman.”
Renovations at Yoncalla Elementary
Warm-toned wooden bookcases line the walls below casement windows and house books and toys in the newly renovated Family Room in Yoncalla Elementary School’s B4 Early Learning Wing. The Family Room is a dedicated space for high-quality early learning programs for children birth to five and their families. The freshly painted room decorated with bright area rugs and colorful activity stations is a relaxing and welcoming space. Chairs are arranged for conversation and stuffed couches provide comfortable reading spaces for families and kids.
The Family Room is used by Yoncalla Early Works and a variety of community partners. Family Relief Nursery and North Douglas Prenatal to 3rd Grade (NDP3) hold three weekly playgroups and Umpqua Valley Breastfeeding Coalition meets there monthly.. Librarian Jill Cunningham also hosts story time in the space. Childcare is provided for Yoncalla Early Works and other parent education events. Children enjoyed the Family Room after an Early Works hosted family dinner for the first-grade class in the cafeteria. The kids played in the Family Room while the parents met to build relationships with their child’s teacher, explore effective communication strategies, and discuss their hopes and dreams for their children.
Community Café Sparks Discussion
When Yoncalla Early Works hosted a well-attended Community Café in November the discussion inevitably turned to the future of the community’s library services. In November 2016, Douglas County residents voted down a bond proposal to create a library district. There are no longer funds budgeted for the library after this fiscal year and it is unclear if the Yoncalla Library will continue to operate at all.
This affects community services like Jill Cunningham’s much valued weekly story time, a cornerstone of Yoncalla Early Works.
Attendees broke into small groups and discussed the benefits of having a local library. The consensus was that the library is a vital and essential public service and gathering place. The public library is also a safe place, accessible for free to all people. The library not only provides a diversity of books and summer programs for kids, but Internet access and a host of other services as well.
People then brainstormed ideas to continue providing these services should the library close. Ideas included running an all-volunteer library, continuing similar programs in the Family Room at Yoncalla Elementary, and operating a family lending library in B4 Early Learning Wing. Further discussion and development of these ideas is on the agenda at the next Parent Leader Group meeting.
Callie Lambarth, research associate from the Center of Improvement of Child and Family Services at Portland State University, provided information from a recent parent survey. The survey showed positive improvements for building parent-child relationships through reading and getting more books into every home.
That segued into a conversation on how parents can make sure reading activities stay fresh and interesting. Elizabeth Briggs, a YEW parent, started a family story time and is reading “Little House in the Big Woods” to her four kids. She sets the stage by turning off the lights and burning candles, just like in those olden times.
“A library is a hospital for the mind.”
The strength of Yoncalla Early Works is in the community’s commitment to providing their children with high-quality learning experiences. Stay tuned for more updates as the work progresses!