By Eric Beuning, Correspondent
In the spring of 2016, residents in the Little Falls School District voted on a referendum to upgrade and update certain aspects of the Little Falls Community Schools. The first part of the referendum passed. This included the new construction of the Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) Center added on to Lincoln Elementary School in west Little Falls.
“The construction process went incredibly well,” said Early Childhood Education Director, Stacy Gold. “The Contegrity Group did a really great job. They were efficient, they were very accommodating and communicated with us all through the process. They worked very hard to get the center built.”
The need for additional early childhood resources had been growing for many years. Various teachers, and individuals had voiced a need for expanded pre-K and parenting education.
“My hat is off to all of those who worked on getting our referendum passed,” said Gold. “Those who knew, supported, and valued the importance of early childhood education and who worked in the trenches of instilling their knowledge for what they do or did into the community helped make this Early Childhood Center happen.”
Studies conducted by the National Education Association have shown that there are many advantages to having children participate in early childhood programming. While most of the benefits directly affect the child some of the advantages also benefit the community.
Academically, children who have participated in early childhood programs are less likely to repeat grades, need special education support and perform higher on ACT and SAT tests. This has the potential to translate into acceptance into highly accredited universities, as well as qualifying for scholarships to help fund post-secondary education.
Also of note, adults who have participated in early childhood programs are likely to earn $2,000 more annually. They are also more likely to own a home, have longer marriages, and are less likely to have legal trouble.
Parents who engage in early childhood programs also find significant benefits.
“The connections made while attending ECFE can be lifelong. When you connect with other parents who are in the same stage of parenting you are, you develop a community, a bond, a safe place to find out you are not alone in this journey,” Gold said.
The new Early Childhood Education Center allows Little Falls Community Schools to host all the early childhood classes and programs under one roof. This includes Early Childhood Special Education, Head Start, Early Childhood Family Education and Little Falls Community Schools preschool.
“When asking the community what they felt they needed and wanted we discovered that families were wanting a full day experience for their preschooler. We are excited to offer the community just that,” Gold said. “Thanks to this, we can better serve each individual child, their family and help to ensure a successful transition into kindergarten.”
The new or expanded services offered to children and families at the Early Childhood Center also include a special class for teen mothers, ages 13-23.
“These moms come with their children and get support, encouragement and connections to resources they need to be great moms,” said Gold.
The expansion afforded by the referendum still has room to grow. In the future the Little Falls Early Childhood Education program hopes to develop transportation and bussing infrastructure for pre-K aged children.
“We are also looking at how to meet the needs of our working families. I would also like to see an ECFE class that offers support families who are raising a child with a disability,” Gold said.
“Our enrollment has already exceeded past years,” said Gold. “We still have some openings, but with our new low prices, the slots have been filling fast.”
To enroll a child in one of the Early Childhood Education classes or preschool, parents can call Gold at (320) 616-6240 or Heather at (320) 616-6247 for more information.
The Early Childhood Center at Lincoln Elementary will also be hosting an open house Wednesday, Aug. 30, from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. It’s an opportunity for people and families to tour the center, connect and learn more about the programs offered. A supper of hot dogs will be offered as well.
“We invite everyone to come out and see the new Early Childhood Center and help us get settled in and enjoy the blessing of this facility,” Gold said.