Preschool’s goal: improving lives of children, families
As Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia starts a statewide tour to seek out effective approaches to early-childhood literacy, he might do well to consider what’s happening at a public preschool and kindergarten in Parachute.
Actually, it’s more than that, as reflected in its name, the Grand Valley Center for Family Learning. This facility of Garfield County School District No. 16 takes a holistic approach to early childhood education by focusing on parents and parental education as well, and also addressing health care, teen parents and other considerations that have a bearing on how a child starts out in school.
Principal Rebecca Ruland said supportive district administrators “really believe in this school as a starting point for kids to succeed in school.”
Whereas preschool programs often are tacked onto elementary schools, the Parachute district put them all in one building, allowing for more comprehensive services, Ruland said.
The facility is located in a 1939 school building that has been renovated and expanded. Last year, the Grand River Hospital District opened a school-based health center there offering expanded medical services beyond what a school nurse can provide. The center, which also serves the rest of the district, can prescribe medicine, do physical exams, give immunizations, do lab work, and even offer mental health therapy. A $20 flat fee for the uninsured can be waived if needed. A dental care program also is being planned.
A teen program with a nursery also is on site, providing parenting education for parents and expecting parents who take academic classes at a nearby district alternative school.
Parents of the school’s 180 or so preschoolers and kindergarteners can participate in educational programs to help them better understand the importance of literacy, health care, brain development and other issues important for readying youngsters for school.
“It’s a two-generation strategy,” Ruland said.
Qualistar Colorado, a nonprofit organization that assesses early childhood education programs, gave the Parachute program its highest rating, Ruland said. About four out of five preschoolers there tend to be at-risk due to factors such as poverty or having a single parent at home, but almost all who go through the preschool program emerge ready for kindergarten, she said.
Meghan Orona said she never was involved with her daughter’s early-childhood education in another city, but things changed when her son Saul, 5, went to the Parachute school. Orona has taken classes, attends parents meeting and participates in a Raising a Reader program with her son.
“It seems like he looks forward to school,” she added. “It gives him something to do and he’s learned a lot.”
Garcia is scheduled to make local stops Tuesday to hear community ideas about approaches worth supporting, and Ruland plans to be at one in Rifle. She also has invited him to visit the Parachute school.
“Whether or not he will come, I don’t know,” she said, but added, “I think what they’re looking for is this kind of programming.”