Low-income children will have a better chance of enrolling into Lower Columbia College’s Head Start/ Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) this spring after the program has received almost $300,000 this year in expansion money.
The state-funded ECEAP received the money from the Department of Early Learning this year. It will allow for 34 new enrollment slots for children ages 0 to 5.
The push for expansion comes after waiting lists for the ECEAP had a reached unprecedented lengths, Head Start Director Sandy Junker said.
“We always have such a huge waitlist and it makes us sad when we know children who could use program can’t use it. We have a need here,” she said, adding that only one-third of low-income children in the community are being served in the program due to a lack of funding.
Head Start/ECEAP is a free pre-school program for low-income and at-risk children and serves families in Toutle, Castle Rock, Kelso, Longview and Kalama. It offers breakfast, lunch, developmental screening and family support to its students on top its already high quality pre-school learning environment.
Jamie Devries, 27, of Kelso has had both her children attend ECEAP in the past for years and said the program has changed her life.
“ECEAP empowers parents to be educators in their childrens lives and the staff really does put the family first and help in anyway they can,” she said.
“We know from research that high quality preschool programs such as ECEAP can greatly reduce the likelihood that at-risk kids will end up in the criminal justice system,” said Kelso Police Chief Andrew Hamilton.
Junker said the 34 new slots will be part of a statewide, yearlong pilot program that will offer longer and more frequent classes. Currently, two classes are held for three and a half hours per day, three days a week.
With the new piloted program, there will be two new added classes. Each class will be six hours long and will take place five days a week, Junker said.
The hope is the longer students are in school, the more social, educational, emotional and developmental growth they will have, said Laurie Seversa, child development specialist with the program.
One classroom will be in Longview and one will be in Castle Rock, Junker said, bringing the total count of ECEAP students to 212.
The extended class times are a first for ECEAP, Junker said, adding that she hopes it will result in a positive outcome for students.
Applications for the piloted program will begin to be accepted in September and classes will begin in early January of 2015.
Applications for both Head Start and ECEAP are currently being accepted for its traditional classes in the fall. Applications must be made in person at the program’s office on 1720 20th Avenue.