A main part of the Even Start Program is parents spending quality time with their children at the LEAAP Center. Recently, Autumn Stone and her daughter Zoie, 4 months; Nikki Ison and daughters Arliegh, 18 months, (in her lap) and Amelia, 4, (on the slide); Autumn Watler and sons Jeremiah, 6, and Kyle, 4, and her younger brother Daniel, 14 (in the center); and Katrina Sanchez holding her son Corey, 1, paused for a picture in the play area at the facility.
By IVY HERRON
The Clay County Even Start Family Literacy Program is changing the lives of those involved, but cuts in educational funding at federal and the state levels and dwindling CAPE Grant funding have crippled parts of the program. Those associated with the program's benefit to the community and its residents are determined to continue on in the face of adversity.
"When students become frustrated, positive role models come in at that point and show them the way, encourage them to continue. Our more mature students are setting role models for others (by succeeding) in the program," said April Burris.
Four days a week, people from 16 - 45 years old participate in classes to help them improve their math, reading and writing skills to acquire a GED or high school diploma or improve job and life skills .
English as a second language (ESL) classes are also provided to those that need them. Monthly home visits to participating families allow staff members to help students set goals for the entire family. Parenting classes are also available to help parents become the best first teacher their children can have.
Some adults in the program signed up for something to do.
"I got pregnant and had nothing better to do than come here. I'm glad I came though, because this was something good to do," said Katrina Sanchez, a 22 year-old mother of a 12-month-old son. "There's a great support system here. I've learned parenting skills, like activities to do with my child. I've learned patience which I didn't have before."
Some adults participate in the program to obtain goals and better their lives.
"I was able to my GED here. I didn't expect to finish it, I'd given up before, but money was a motivating factor for getting it this time," said Autumn Watler, a 27 year-old mother of two children. "You can't get anywhere in this world without at least a GED."
Others want to better the lives of their children.
Nikki Ison, a 24 year-old mother of two daughters, and Autumn Stone, an 18 year-old mother of an infant daughter, wanted their children to get an early start on social skills while bettering their own education.
"I wanted to get my children into preschool while I worked on my GED," Ison said. "I'm glad my children can be in same building with me, which lets me check on them anytime. There is great child care here, my 4 year-old is not as backward and shy as she once was."
"Everyone is so nice and helpful here," Stone said. "I am looking forward to getting my GED."
After completing their GEDs, Sanchez and Watler moved on to classes at Ivy Tech College because of the program. Working on an associate degree for photography, Sanchez is in her second semester, while Watler is in her third semester of the college's nursing program.
"I see so many young mothers and they really grow while in this program, becoming good parents, good members of the community," Burris said. "It's disappointing to think we might now be able to benefit more people in the future."
"I'm frustrated, we're all frustrated," Watler said on behalf of the group. "We're trying to do the right thing with our lives and for our families and we might not be able to continue because of cuts in the program."
To continue help for those already enrolled in the program, some classes and activities have been eliminated for the upcoming year.
Burris says the community can show their support by volunteering to help with the adult/child education programs at the LEAAP Center at 501 E. Jackson St.
"If someone volunteers to help the program in any way, that equals dollars/donations, which equals community support," she said. "In essence, by volunteering to help with this program, we're helping our community. We're helping ourselves."
A long-term study by the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation of children who received high-quality early childhood care and adults with an education shows a return to society of more than $17 for every tax dollar invested in community early care and education programs.
"If we are able to keep as many of the components in place during this cut-back phase in funding for the program, we have an improved chance of getting funding next year," Burris said. "We need to show that our community is involved and cares about these types of programs so that officials will be motivated to re-qualify the program in the future."
"Clay County is fortunate to have a program where parents can better their lives and the lives of their families," Director Mary Yelton said. "Educating the parents is the way to break the cycle of poverty. Inter-generational changes occur daily and will continue forever."
As many of the more than 10 families on a waiting list to join the program will be helped during the 2006/07 school year, but the program components may not be as intense as in the past.
"Children and parents have made tremendous achievements through participation in the family literacy program," Yelton said. "Family Literacy doesn't just give the parents and children fish, it teaches them how to fish."