NOVEMBER 2017 MINISTRY OF THE MONTH
While the event is an absolute blast, complete with a turkey mascot on a bicycle, it also serves a much more profound purpose: funding efforts to increase access to preschool in Fauquier County through a Saint James’ initiative called Learning Starts Early.
Learning Starts Early (LSE) is an outreach ministry with a simple vision: that each child is a beloved child of God, and that each child should enter kindergarten ready to thrive and grow academically, socially and emotionally.
- Learning Starts Early (LSE) is an outreach ministry of Saint James’ that seeks to facilitate access to quality preschool education in Fauquier County, especially for low-income families.
- Mission Statement: “As the body of Christ, Saint James’ will use the available resources of its preschool as well as the time, talents and treasure of individual members to ensure that children in the county have access to all of the opportunities necessary to be ready for kindergarten and beyond”
- Gobble, Gobble, Run or Wobble 5k & Kids’ Fun Run is the primary fundraiser for Learning Starts Early. Last year, the event raised $6100, and we hope to raise even more money this year. 100% of proceeds from the race benefit Learning Starts Early.
- To register for the race on Saturday, November 18, click here. To learn more about volunteering (you’ll get a free t-shirt!) contact Kathleen Neville.
- For more information about Learning Starts Early and how you can get involved, contact Bob Dart.
Access to quality preschool education can be the deciding factor in fulfilling this vision, but children in low-income households have been all too often left behind during this critical juncture, which can leave them behind their peers as they progress through elementary and middle school.
In Virginia, preschool is often simply too expensive to be a viable option. This problem is very much present in Fauquier County, and consequently, roughly 20% of children entering kindergarten here do not meet the basic kindergarten preparedness standards set by the state. And even when preschool is available, the quality of the program itself is crucial to the long-term impact on the child.
According to NPR, “experts cite several key elements in ‘high-quality’ preschool: small class sizes, student-directed learning and lots of open-ended play. And researchers have warned that outcomes are short-lived when those elements are not present.”
The existence of programs like Head Start and Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) have made large strides in addressing the kindergarten-readiness gap, but they can only have a lasting impact with committed community partners and strong, local relationships. Learning Starts Early strives to do their part to fill this supportive role based on a close relationship with our community.
For instance, this year Fauquier County received a $250,000 grant from the state to expand access to preschool. At the same time, LSE reached out to Community Touch, a Bealeton-based organization with an array of programs designed to lift up underprivileged people in southern Fauquier.
Community Touch is in the process of getting licensed for a new preschool in Bealeton, an especially underserved community, but didn’t have the funding for some classroom materials that were essential to applying for their license. LSE was able to purchase these items, and Caring For Angels Childcare Center is awaiting state approval to receive students through VPI, hopefully beginning in January.
LSE has purchased a smart board for a Head Start classroom in Warrenton, and has been able to help keep VPI classrooms in the county supplied with the basic items essential for teachers and students.
While funding for programs like these is certainly needed, so are more personal relationships and service from members of Saint James’ and the wider community.
LSE facilitates about fifteen volunteers, mostly from Saint James’, who go to Head Start classrooms and read to the children on a regular basis. Not only does this promote basic literacy skills, it strengthens those relationships that are so vital to any community, and helps fulfill a basic principle of the Kingdom of God: that we be in solidarity with the people we serve.
The third major mission of Learning Starts Early is a bit more direct. Coordinating with other country preschool programs to find candidates, LSE funds scholarships for three students to attend Saint James’ Preschool during the current school year. LSE also provided three scholarships for the 2016-2017 academic year.
This last mission highlights the continuing need in Fauquier County for access to quality preschool education. While Head Start, Virginia Preschool Initiative and other programs have addressed some of the problem, some children continue to fall through the cracks. There is always a waiting list for Head Start and VPI enrollment, and if a family’s income doesn’t fall within certain parameters, they won’t qualify for a free public preschool.
For three students this year, LSE has been able to fill that gap, but the need in Fauquier County remains much greater – whether in basic materials for classrooms, reading volunteers, or more direct funding of scholarships and schools. It is the belief of LSE that through personal, relational service in our community, Saint James’ can be part of the solution.