Early Intervention Programs Put Students On The Right Track

Grandma Abbie Jones, a “foster grandparent,” facilitates a learning activity with PACT program students. Jones is a part of the Foster Grandparent Program P-J photo by Katrina Fuller

At Jamestown Public Schools, early intervention can start as early as three-years-old.

Early intervention programs attempt to develop skills and provide information to students so they can succeed at a young age. At the Jamestown schools, preschool is an important part of that intervention, said Tina Sandstrom, director of schools.

“We try to intervene and give kids skills early on,” Sandstrom said. “Our Pre-K is probably one of the best examples. If there are any gaps, we can hit them, fill them and move on.”

She said early intervention can include programs such a pre-school programs, speech therapy and other types of services. However, pre-school is a very important part of early childhood education. Sandstrom said there are over 400 students in the Jamestown Public Schools District preschool programs. New this year, there are also three-year-old programs at Love Elementary School and Fletcher Elementary School. Each school has at least two four-year-old classrooms and can have more, depending on need and the space available at the school.

Sandstrom said the pre-school program has grown substantially over the years, and also includes partnerships with community organizations such as the YMCA, the YWCA, A Children’s Place and the Head Start program at Holy Family. The outside agencies host pre-school programs at their site as well, she said.

All the programs are full-day, running from 9 a.m to 2 p.m. each day. Some of the outside agency sites have wrap-around care which provides a few extra hours of childcare for parents if need be, Sandstrom said.

“We’re lucky to have been able to expand those programs,” she said. “We’ve more than doubled since I’ve been in this position.”

Sandstrom said two more grants have made the expansion possible which has benefited many more students.

While getting the kids to school early is important, she said there are other key factors in the success of early intervention programs, including getting the parents involved. One specific program at Love Elementary School that has been connecting parents with the classroom for many years is the Parents And Children Together program, or the PACT program.

Pat Cunningham, PACT program teacher, said the program is a great example of early intervention because it brings parents in to the classroom and encourages their involvement.

“The parent piece is really early intervention because parents are really learning what their children need to know,” Cunningham said. “It gives the parents a really good understanding of what kids are learning. When the parents are involved, the children seem to do very well.”

The PACT program has been running at Love School for at least 27 years, he said. The program invites parents into the classroom once a week for 45 minutes to an hour, and then they spend time with parent coordinator Debbie Yahn. Yahn is employed by the Jamestown Community Learning Council. Cunningham said Yahn goes over what happened in the classroom with the parents in a helpful and understanding way.

He said he is lucky to have Yahn as the parent coordinator and they work well together as a team.

Cunningham said the program has goals for the students, but they are presented in a fun way. At times, the students don’t even know they are learning.

“I don’t have too many kids who say, ‘I can’t do it,'” he said. “I try and make it fun. They’re not afraid to try, and then make a mistake.”

Cunningham said what he hopes students learn in the classroom includes clear communication of thoughts and feelings in full sentences, not to be afraid of taking a risk, independence, participation in activities and academics to get ready for kindergarten.

He said students who were part of the PACT program often do well when they move on to kindergarten.

“Now that’s not because of me,” Cunningham said. “That’s because of the parents. The parents here at Love School are getting involved.”

He said introducing parents and children to the bridge of education between school and home is a very key piece in a successful student.

“Before they come to school, their first teacher is mom and dad,” Cunningham said.