L. Cappabianca Linda of Federal Programs Supervisor Special Education and Public Schools Erie’s Early Connections Organizational Overview Early Connections (formerly the YWCA) has operated in Erie County for over 100 years, providing outreach and programming to young children and families. Currently, Early Connections provides quality STAR 4-level programming at five sites, four in the City of Erie and one in Union City. Our sixth site, located in North East, is our newest center and has already been fast-tracked to STAR 2, and operates using STAR 4 standards. STARS is a quality rating system used by Pennsylvania to determine the quality of Early Care and Education sites based on specific standards, with one STAR being entry level in the system and four STARS being the highest quality. STARS sets requirements for early childhood programs to promote the best learning environment and safest setting possible for children, contributing to a child’s overall success. At Early Connections’ centers, in the care of caring, qualified staff, children experience developmentally-appropriate learning activities which fulfill the PA Early Learning Standards. Currently, we serve approximately 300 children in our centers, from infant through school age. Five locations include Pre-K Counts and two provide inclusive classrooms where children with identified special needs attend programming with “typically-developing” children while receiving supports to meet their needs. All centers participate in our contract with Erie County to provide full-time programming for children in our Family Support program. Early Connections supports young children's early learning and development through high quality programming, utilizing years of evidence-based research that supports long-term positive impacts on a child, especially a child from poverty (http://www.highscope.org). Young children in Erie County are considered "high risk" for early school failure (OCDEL Reach and Risk Report, 2015). Research has shown that if children receive a high quality early childhood education, they are more likely to succeed in school, graduate, and enter the skilled workforce. Quality early childhood education provides a positive long-lasting effect on a child’s educational and economic future, in turn helping improve their community’s economy and future workforce (http://www.readynation.org). Early Connections accepts CCIS (subsidy) child care funding for qualified families, and will direct families to the local resource for subsidy. Currently, EC also provides up to 30 funded preschool slots for children whose families meet the qualifications through United Way of Erie County funding. United Way has also provided Early Connections with Bridge Funding, so that children whose families are on childcare subsidy wait lists are not forced to wait for programming, but can immediately become engaged in Early Connections’ learning opportunities without interruption. "Erie’s Public Schools has partnered with Early Connections for many years to provide inclusive classrooms for preschool age children; providing a quality childhood experience while meeting children’s individual needs. " In addition to early learning and child care, Early Connections administers: Erie’s Future Fund, a scholarship program supporting economicallychallenged families in enrolling their children in high quality early learning throughout Erie County. Success By 6, United Way’s initiative to ensure that children enter kindergarten ready to learn and succeed in school. Supported Play Groups, funded through Community Improvement Zone (CIZ) Race To The Top, to assist families in helping their children develop school and social skills. Erie Free Taxes (Rural Outreach Component), to increase families’ awareness of and access to no-cost, professional-quality tax preparation. Contracts with the Northwest Regional Key, to provide technical assistance to child care centers in Erie County and neighboring counties; professional development for child care practitioners; and Child Development Associate programs for CDA credentialing. We welcome questions regarding our work, and invite you to read our Annual Report in the pages that follow. Early Connections is truly dedicated to creating lifelong learners through exciting and engaging programs!
Program Highlights 2015-16 EARLY CONNECTIONS EXPANDS INTO THE NORTH EAST COMMUNITY Early Connections is proud to have opened a new early care and education center in North East, Pennsylvania, to serve the families in that area. EC North East provides families in the community with additional options for preschool and child care programming. As all new centers do, ECNE opened with a STAR 1 rating but quickly progressed to STAR 2, because from the beginning the program has been dedicated to providing quality child care and early education for the children enrolled. At the time of this report, the center is preparing to continue moving through this quality rating system and will achieve STAR 3. A special relationship has developed with Parkside North East where children and seniors get together regularly to share time and activities. Our success in the North East area has been strongly bolstered by the 4 N.I.N.E. organization, who provide financial support, materials, and outreach to families and businesses. The North East News-Journal annually conducts a reader’s poll to determine which businesses are the “best” in the community. Early Connections was voted Best Daycare/Preschool in the North East Community for 2015!! PRE-K COUNTS PROGRAM EXPANSION Early Connections successfully applied for and received over 50 new Pre-K Counts expansion slots, allowing additional children to have the opportunity to enroll in a high-quality, research-based early learning program. New Pre-K Counts opportunities were made available at all four Erie centers. In addition, a new partnership was forged with the Iroquois School District. The district now provides a Pre-K Counts classroom for 26 young learners, with Early Connections as grant holder. This partnership has been a great benefit to the children of Lawrence Park, and has connected Early Connections and Iroquois for not only the present, but also for future opportunities. While we have several community initiatives that are vital to the well-being of early care and education not only at Early Connections but in Erie County and NW PA in particular, our direct service to children and their families is our highest priority. We honor the trust families have placed in us by providing the best programs and support services we can deliver.