11/11/05 — Partnership reviews year, achievements

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Partnership reviews year, achievements

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 11, 2005 1:45 PM

Partnership for Children of Wayne County celebrated its accomplishments and recognized others who have helped serve children and families over the past year during the board of directors' annual meeting Thursday.

Don Magoon, executive director of the partnership, which governs Smart Start and other family support programs, said there was much to be excited about in Wayne County.

"Wayne County now has the highest number of five-star centers and homes ever, as well as four-star centers and homes," he said. It also has among the highest per capita pre-kindergarten programs in the state, he said.

One of the newest More at Four sites is at Tommy's Road Elementary School, he said as he introduced the school's principal, Patsy Faison.

Eighteen students are enrolled in the school's program this year, she said, and are reaping the benefits of the early education opportunity.

"The smartest thing that we can do is to make a difference in the life of a child," she said. "I know if we get them early enough, we can make significant imprints on their life that will shape the life for the rest of their life."

Julie Odom, community services coordinator for the partnership, acknowledged the efforts that went into several projects for the year. In addition to grants that funded assembly programs and multi-cultural arts for tots, there were book drives for child care centers and baby baskets distributed to new mothers, she said.

One program that has served more than 86 children and 75 parents in the Latino community was led by Michelle Estrada, Latino Community Educator for the partnership. She said since being launched in December 2004, the program has offered parenting classes and training, safety education and a variety of activities for families.

Angelina Toledo, a young Hispanic mother of a 34-month-old son, has participated in the "Parents as Teachers" program. Ms. Estrada translated as Ms. Toledo shared her experience.

"One of the things that I learn, is to not pressure my child when he is afraid," she said. "Daniel learned how to control his temper. ... We learned potty training."

Ms. Toledo said she had also appreciated being able to use the lending library and attending parenting classes on Saturdays, which are in Spanish, and allowed her to share her experiences with other parents.

"I'm very interested in continuing in this program because I want to help my child when he grows and prepare him for when he starts school," she said.

Another parent, Amy Clark, who has twin 5-year-old boys with autism, had her own success story to share. She said she had been pleased with the More at Four program her sons attended because it supported inclusion.

"I think it's very important to reach children at a very young age and I think you do that," said Mrs. Clark, who is also co-chair of the Wayne County Autistic Society. "I have and will continue to recommend this program to other parents.

"When parents call me and ask what to do with their children, I tell them to call the Partnership."

While still in high school, Wendy Smith knew she wanted to become a teacher after several experiences working in day care centers. Her experiences being everything from teacher assistant to education coordinator have led her to work with children at Small World Child Care.

She told the audience Thursday that there is a correlation between the amount of education a teacher receives and the impact she has on her students. As the result of receiving scholarship money to continue her education at Mount Olive College, she said she was able to use her classroom as an "early education laboratory."

"I have been able to take the things that I have learned and provide them to other teachers," she said. Ms. Smith said she enjoys the hands-on opportunity that being in a classroom affords her to prepare both children and parents for kindergarten.

Early care and education makes a difference not only in children as they enter school, but throughout their lives, said Lora Lee, director of program coordination and evaluation.

More at Four, a pre-kindergarten program introduced for at-risk four-year-olds, is an example of one effort that has met with great support and success.

"When More at Four started in Wayne County, it had 54 slots," she said. "Currently, there are 468 and we have applied for 18 more."

Another success story for the partnership came following establishing a Safe Kids chapter in the county in Nov., 2004. Magoon said the partnership took the lead role in working to reduce injuries to children by conducting car seat safety checks, providing reliable car seats to families in need, and participating in other safety events.

"We're very excited about Safe Kids," he said. "We've been told we have one of the most active chapters in just the short amount of time we have been in existence."

Donna Phillips, vice-chair of the partnership board, said the challenge for the future is guard against becoming complacent.

"Every child deserves an advocate, somebody who's going to stop at nothing to make sure their future is bright," she said.