New Cocalico Area Program Embodies ‘It Takes a Village…’
By: Aubree, Fahringer, The Ephrata Review
The Ephrata Review – It’s impossible to overestimate the vital role that parents play in the lives of their children.
That’s why a new program now offered in the Cocalico community is of such importance. It is the evidence-based “Parents as Teachers” program, which provides individualized inhome sessions and materials for families to use and keep, as parents work with an early learning mentor to help them prepare their child for kindergarten.
Through a partnership of the Cocalico School District, REAL Life Community Services, and Community Action Partnership of Lancaster (CAP), this program blossomed from a dream into a reality.
“The last five years or so, we’ve been seeing a lot of our incoming kindergartners coming to school with great behavioral, social, and emotional needs and not prepared to learn,” said Denise Logue, director of academic supports for the district. “Our incoming kindergarten scores have decreased over time. Therefore, we have had a dream for a few years to have a person dedicated to working with families directly in their homes since we know that the most formative years in a child’s life are from birth to age 5, especially ages 0-3. Parents and caregivers are a child’s first and most important teachers.” This is a need that REAL Life has also identified. “At REAL Life Community Services, we see a lot of families who are in need right here in our community,” said Rod Redcay, executive director of REAL Life. “We know that parenting is hard work. It’s even harder when there’s not enough resources for the family to provide for their children. We know that food, clothing, and shelter are crucial to a child’s development, but social and educational needs are important as well.” “Through the very generous efforts of Ephrata National Bank, REAL Life Community Services, the Weaver Wagon, a grant through the United Way through the Community Action Partnership of Lancaster, and some private and personal donations, we were able to afford hiring a part-time person,” said Logue.
Photo was taken pre-COVID
That person was Deeann Sherman.
“We named this position ‘Early Learning Mentor,'” explained Redcay. “CAP hired Deeann and trained her for this position. Since we needed this position to be close to a social services provider, REAL Life was just the fit to bring Deeann on as part of our team with an office and space to meet with parents as needed.” Sherman is employed by Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and collaborates with REAL Life Community Services and the Cocalico School District.
“My purpose and passions are united through this role: empowering families, building relationships, developing resiliency within the family, creating connections and providing opportunities to prepare Cocalico’s youngest Eagles to succeed in school,” Sherman said. “As a former educator and Cocalico parent, I’m excited to see the impact in the Cocalico community!” Sherman’s role is to partner with families to set their children up well for school. Parents as Teachers is a home visitation program with visits occurring once or twice a month, but, in light of the pandemic, visits have been conducted virtually and will return to in-person when deemed safe. Via Zoom, Sherman provides activities that are driven by the parents or caregiver, and she supplies books and materials. Together with the parents or caregiver, she examines the child’s development and determines strengths and areas for growth. She connects families with a wide range of resources -from meeting basic needs to sharing age-appropriate activities at the local library, in addition to inviting families to monthly virtual group connections and parent workshops.
“Research indicates that during the first five years of life, children experience a period of exponential brain development, but this development is highly dependent on the relationships and environment in which the child is growing,” Logue explained.
“We feel it is imperative to support families directly during this important time period in a child’s life to give parents and caregivers the knowledge and the tools to take full advantage of everyday opportunities to learn in their daily environments and promote positive parent-child interaction to strengthen those important family bonds. Many times, parents of very young children feel unprepared, frustrated, and aren’t sure where to turn to when dealing with the everyday challenges of being a parent. This kind of a program allows parents to have someone walk alongside them to build their own confidence and capacity as parents.” Perhaps some of the best news for families already in a financial bind due to the pandemic, is that the program is free.
“We are so excited to be a part of this program and can’t wait to see these young children entering kindergarten with all the right tools and knowledge they need to learn and thrive!” said Redcay.
“I think the icing on the cake to this initiative is that it is very tangible evidence that the Cocalico community truly cares about the well-being of its children,” said Logue. “Our community’s organizations and businesses such as REAL Life Community Services, Ephrata National Bank, Weaver’s Wagon, the Community Action Partnership of Lancaster, and individual private donors decided to dedicate their own financial resources to help increase the well-being of children and families. It is evident that these donors understand the positive impact that an investment in providing high-quality early childhood experiences will have on the future of the academic, social, and emotional health of our children, families, and the community as a whole.” Additionally, because some virtual visits posed an obstacle for families without access to technology, Redcay explained, a key stakeholder in the community heard about the issue and donated 15 laptops to give to participating families, so they can get the training they need, even during COVID-19 lockdowns.
“What a perfect example of the mantra, ‘It takes a village!'” Logue said.
Currently, there are six families enrolled in the program, but there is room for at least ten more. Interested families that have children three years old or younger should visit reallcs.org or call REAL Life offices at 717-336-7797 for more information. Sherman can also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-615-5471.
Aubree Fahringer is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review