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Early childhood education is a family affair

The Leaguers, Newark, New Jersey

The Leaguers is clear that childhood success depends on the entire family. That’s why, in initiatives across New Jersey, they supplement their Early Head Start Programs (ages 0-3 years) and Head Start Programs (ages 3-5 years) with prenatal care, parenting classes—even programs to address mental health needs. Every family works with a family advocate to set and achieve personal goals, from finding adequate housing to going back to school, becoming employed to becoming self-sufficient. The Leaguers even has a program that actively incorporates fathers into the learning process.

“I’m especially proud of that program,” says Executive Director Veronica Ray. “It’s big; 92% of our families participate.”

Of course, they have special programs for children, too. “We have iPads for use in the classroom with an app for children with autism, children who are nonverbal,” she continues. “It really increases their vocabulary. They learn 75% faster with the app than by rote.”

But the program she is most excited about this year is Project Combat. As Ray describes it, “We work with military families who either have someone deployed or in the reserves. We help the families find resources they may need, help the children learn coping skills, and help teachers identify behaviors that may signal issues.”

Asked about the admissions process, Ray explains that applicants are rated on a range of metrics—and the ones who have the greatest need are accepted. “When our children come to us, their academic scores are very low; when they leave they are in the 98 percentile. They are ready for kindergarten. And we’ve built the health of the whole family.”

Of course all this takes human resources and coordination, efforts that are centralized in their headquarters, which BCC helped fund. “They have been our partner at the table,” says Ray. “They helped us think about how we provide services, how we can best use the building.”

“Sometimes it seems like banks have a box they want to fit you in, and if you don’t fit, they can’t help. That’s not BCC. They look at the whole program—you know they genuinely want us to succeed.” Ray smiles, “I hope they know what this building has meant to the community. It’s a place where parents want to bring their children, and where teachers feel like they can flourish.”

Photo credit: Wilkinson Media