Great Beginnings Programs Highlighted in LSR7 Magazine
The early childhood education program in the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District has laid a new cornerstone as part of building a strong foundation for our youngest learners. This summer LSR7 used funds from the 2020 no tax rate increase bond issue to purchase Paradise Park, which will become the second location for the Great Beginnings Early Education Center.
PARADISE PARK PROVIDES COUNTLESS OPPORTUNITIES
Expected to open by fall 2023, the Great Beginnings location at Paradise Park relieves overcapacity, consolidates classrooms that are spread across the district and expands programming options.
Paradise Park’s “edu-tainment” Discovery Play center was designed to appeal to families through educational and entertaining activities. Great Beginnings will capitalize on this infrastructure to support its philosophy of learning through meaningful, engaging play. This property also opens up new opportunities for students and staff around the district.
GREAT BEGINNINGS IS DESIGNED FOR THE EDUCATIONAL JOURNEY.
The Great Beginnings team meets children and families where they are, whether it is in a classroom or a living room. Although Great Beginnings’ programs serve specific abilities and backgrounds, they have two shared purposes: parent education and early intervention. The effectiveness of Great Beginnings’ multi-faceted approach is reflected in one success story, Katie and Michelle Wilson’s family.
LSR7 PARENTS AS TEACHERS GIVES ALL RESIDENT FAMILIES WITH YOUNG CHILDREN AN EARLY ADVANTAGE.
Like all residents in LSR7, the Wilsons were eligible to receive free support for their young children from LSR7 Parents as Educators (PAT), a program through Great Beginnings.
PAT’s developmental screening led the family to get speech therapy for their one-year-old daughter Carson. A year and a half later, the Great Beginnings team determined Carson qualified for specialized services because of her educational autism eligibility.
The connection between PAT and the Great Beginnings school building provided the Wilsons with another opportunity: Carson earned a spot in the Early Childhood Special Education program.
GREAT BEGINNINGS SPARKS TRANSFORMATIONS.
With a limited vocabulary and a shy attitude, Carson started at Great Beginnings in fall 2019. Katie Wilson, who is a former Lee’s Summit West High School teacher, believed having therapy and specialized instruction under one roof offered Carson the best path to success.
“Three hours a day, four days a week with specialists that could help Carson with her autism diagnosis and hopefully help build her skills and maybe even get her talking a little bit more,” Katie Wilson says.
Even as COVID-19 disrupted the world in Carson’s second semester, the Great Beginnings team persisted and empowered Carson’s transformation.
“She went from five words to probably 100 words,” Katie says. “She became very social. By the time she left Great Beginnings she had friends and a community. She was very scared to go to Great Beginnings. Just picture a three year old walking in, crying, didn’t want to leave me. By the time she left Great Beginnings, she jumped out of our car. She would wave, look me in the eyes and say, ‘Bye, Mommy.’ And then she would greet every teacher she saw with a high-five, a wave, she would be smiling.”
“The success Carson had blew both of our minds on so many levels,” Katie says. “Just to see her so happy. Her entire demeanor changed.”
“I would say Great Beginnings was engaged and involved,” Michelle Wilson says. “And not only did the speech improve, but not in a million years would I have imagined Carson interacting with her kindergarten class. This last couple of weeks she actually wanted a group hug, and she got the class to give her a group hug.”
Carson’s transformation aligns with research from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University illustrating the importance of early childhood education.
“In the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neuron connections are made every second,” says Great Beginnings Principal Jeanie Cook. “Early language and cognitive functions are the first skills to develop. We have that window of opportunity to begin working with children at such a young age because their brains are rapidly developing. We can help really build a foundation that will help them become better learners throughout their life.”
GREAT BEGINNINGS SERVES CHILDREN WITH ALL NEEDS.
Following Carson’s success, the Wilsons wanted their younger twins, Blakely and Maverick, to be evaluated.
“As a parent, you don’t want any extra roadblocks for your kids because life is hard enough. You want them to be as successful as possible,” Katie says. “We saw that there are some extra challenges for them. We knew Great Beginnings had more programs than just the specialized programs for kids with autism.”
The Great Beginnings team addressed their individual needs, which included communication and social-emotional support.
“Great Beginnings did a phenomenal job of not only evaluating our children with different needs this time, but placing them in classrooms that met those needs, with teachers that were just a perfect fit,” Katie says.
Half of the students in the classrooms have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and receive special services. The other half have slight delays and serve as peer models.
GREAT BEGINNINGS’ INCLUSIVE PHILOSOPHY SHAPES ITS STRUCTURE FOR SUCCESS.
The little learners may be too young to know their experience is structured for their success, but they know they are loved.
Before students reach the classroom, the Great Beginnings team greets each student with the “I Love You Ritual” to build a sense of belonging. The school day starts with a tabletime activity to warm up and then circle time to greet each other and to send good wishes to absent students.
Structured and unstructured activities develop students’ creativity and problem-solving skills. Outside time builds motor skills. Snack time is followed by meaningful play time focused on a range of skills such as literacy, math, vocabulary and reading. Center time involves more play as students build social skills.
“Play is a huge component of our school day because we know that play is learning and these kids are learning through play,” says Mrs. Heather Hamilton, early childhood special education teacher. “Through play, we are communicating all those concepts of ‘the car is going fast,’ ‘the big ball is bouncing,’ and just getting all that communication, as well as turn taking, requesting toys from peers, noticing our peers.”
Building a strong relationship with parents is key because families learn how to be advocates during the entirety of their children’s K-12 educational journey.
“It’s our goal to make sure that they’re comfortable with how we are supporting their child,” says Principal Cook.
PARENTS AS TEACHERS (PAT):
Who Qualifies: Any resident family with children prenatal to five years old can request an in-home, phone or virtual consultation with PAT.
Family Cost: Free
Benefits: Parents as Teachers promotes early development, learning and children’s good health. They support parents and caregivers, who are their child’s first and most important teacher. PAT seeks to build community, help families thrive and ensure children are healthy, safe and ready to learn. Families receive a yearly child developmental screening and information to increase their knowledge, improve parenting practices and achieve goals. The PAT community provides opportunities for families to gather and learn about parenting topics, develop friendships and increase social connections. “We know the biggest growth of a child’s brain takes place during those first five years of life. That wiring impacts a child’s life and we want to give every child their best start in life,” says Tracy Halphin, Lead Parent Educator.
EARLY HEAD START:
Who Qualifies: Families with children neonatal to 3 years old who complete an application and meet eligibility based on federal income guidelines.
Benefits: Families receive weekly home visits from a Certified Parent Educator/Family Advocate, education about developmentally appropriate learning and activities, and access to local resources and support systems for all family members.
EARLY CHILDHOOD SPECIAL EDUCATION:
Who Qualifies: Services are provided for children 3-5 years of age with disabilities. Special Education services are provided for children who qualify for assistance based on meeting special education criteria and their Individual Education Program (IEP). There are a variety of early childhood special education professionals such as early childhood special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists to support children’s individual needs.
Family Cost: Free
Benefits: Students receive early intervention services before they start kindergarten. “We can provide a wrap-around, 360-degree approach to them, so we can support them in their development,” says Great Beginnings Principal Jeanie Cook. “We can also support the family in partnering with us to help aid their progress.”
Who Qualifies: The Head Start program (a federally funded program) serves children 3-5 years old from families who complete an application and meet eligibility based on federal income guidelines.
Benefits: Head Start is half a day for four days a week and provides early education, snacks and two meals daily. Meeting children’s needs (social-emotional, cognitive, physical, medical and social supports) builds a strong foundation for early learners. Preparedness for kindergarten is a primary goal. Family Advocates partner with parents to provide support for the entire family, often connecting them to community resources. School supplies and transportation are provided.
“Head Start provides a holistic approach for the child,” says Lead Family Advocate for Head Start Jennifer Allen. “When they come to school they get their early childhood setting, learning, playing and social interaction, but they also get basic needs met by getting two meals while they’re here and a lot of other supports.”
Who Qualifies: The Title 1 Program serves students who demonstrate a developmental delay and who are one year away from kindergarten.
Family Cost: Free “The classroom is designed to provide academic and social opportunities structured to support and prepare students for success in school,” says Principal Jeanie Cook.