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Community Children’s Center named Preferred Pre-K provider

July 4, 2018
By MEGHAN McCOY (news@breezenewspapers.com) , Lehigh Acres Citizen

The School District of Lee County recently recognized the commitment of the Community Children's Center in Lehigh Acres as one of two Childcare of Southwest Florida centers as a Preferred Pre-K provider that helps prepare young children for kindergarten.

"We are very honored to be participating with Lee County schools in trying to narrow the gap between Pre-K and kindergarten. It's been a long time that they haven't really seen the value, people in our industry, of how important Pre-K is. Children's brains are developing and mostly developed by the age of 5, so it is really important that we do focus on the Pre-K years, so that the children are ready for kindergarten," Community Children's Center Director Megan Greeley-Gibson said.

The second center was the Children's Learning Center at Florida Southwestern State College. The two centers were among five pre-kindergarten programs countywide that received the designation.

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Megan Greeley-Gibson.

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"Communication is at the heart of the seamless educational experience the centers provide," said Martha Kebhart, director of the Children's Learning Center at FSW, in a prepared statement. "The communication between the preschool teacher who is working with her children for nine months and that kindergarten teacher who is going to be getting our children is really important for success."

To receive the designation, the centers had to meet a rigorous set of criteria, which included a rating of four or above on the Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida's Quality Rating Improvement System.

Both centers received the distinction with the highest rating possible, five.

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"Without my teachers we wouldn't be able to achieve this," Greeley-Gibson said. "They had to go through trainings and basically implement things learned at those trainings and really get behind the idea of taking new ideas from kindergarten teachers and applying it in the classroom."

Childcare of Southwest Florida took ownership of the Lehigh Acres center building in 2002. Greeley-Gibson began working at the center in 2004.

The center provides care for infants to age 8. There are 16 teachers, as well as Greeley-Gibson on the staff, and 10 classrooms.

"I have a very low staff turnover," she said, of some of her teachers being there for five, 10 and 15 years. "It is really wonderful that we feel like a home away from home. They see a familiar face when they come back."

Community Children Center has three VPK classrooms, one has two teachers, and the other two have one teacher in the classroom. Greeley-Gibson said the VPK standard requires one teacher to every 11 students.

"Our teachers do assessments on the children three times a year. The VPK assessments, in addition to our teaching strategies online tool we use to assess where they are and where we need to take them," she said.

This same teaching strategy is used on all of the age groups registered at the center. Greeley-Gibson said it is consistent for infants to youngsters 8 years old. She said it is important to have those assessments, as well as parent-teacher conferences, so they can build a partnership with the parent, so the children are ready for kindergarten.

Greeley-Gibson said a lot of what they are already incorporating into the Pre-K classrooms, they have heard from kindergarten teachers as being important.

"We are very happy to hear we are already doing a lot of them," she said of social, emotional and such self-help skills as going to the bathroom on their own and standing in line without pushing the person in front of them.

"There is a lot less hands on deck in kindergarten," she said of the typical ratio of one teacher to 23 students.

Something else the teachers do with the Pre-K students is having a family-style lunch, which is a USDA food program requirement. The students pass around bowls to one another, as well as opening their own carton of milk.

"They feel independent and in control," Greeley-Gibson said of the lunches. "At this age that is what they want."

They recently had the opportunity to visit Mirror Lakes Elementary School with some of the Pre-K students and their parents.

"It was a great experience. I believe we are going to do that every year," she said.

Greeley-Gibson said it was great because it gave the youngsters an idea of what kindergarten was really like.

"My teachers really enjoyed being able to talk to other teachers in the community and get ideas, share ideas and collaborate on things," she said. "It really does bridge the gap. It's finally happening that we are able to work together . . . the education team from Pre-K to kindergarten."

The center also provides a program called Focus on Four. It's a VPK program offered during the summer for four hours a day for eight weeks, at no cost, due to a grant.

"We can help prevent the summer slide," Greeley-Gibson said of students who just graduated from the VPK program. "We love that program. It's wonderful to be able to keep our children here through the summer. It's a program that is really helping and makes parents aware of how important VPK is."

Those interested in signing their child up for VPK can do so on the Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida website, elcofswfl.org. The child has to be 4 years old by Sept. 1 of that school year.

"Once they apply they will receive a voucher. They can take it to any provider that they want to," Greeley-Gibson said.

 
 

 

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