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Early Learning Coalition receives $155,000 grant

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

Families with young children here in Henry County could soon see more opportunities for giving their kids a strong educational foundation.

Indiana’s Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning (OECOSL), part of the Family and Social Services Administration, announced Monday that it is giving $155,200 to the Henry County Early Learning Coalition to help increase the number of high-quality spots in Henry County.

The State of Indiana identifies “high quality” childcare and preschool options by voluntary criteria known as Paths to QUALITY.

“It’s exciting for our coalition to be chosen,” Henry County Early Learning Coalition Coordinator Liane Nickey said.

Nickey said one of the main obstacles in providing high-quality education to Henry County infants and toddlers is that the space just doesn’t exist for them yet. 

“There is not enough infant and toddler care,” she said. “There are 1,923 children who need care and 614 of those children are infants and toddlers.” 

“672 children are enrolled in known programs in Henry County with only 51 children enrolled in what is considered as high-quality,” she added.

That means only about eight percent of all of Henry County’s children under 5 years old are receiving high-quality education.

“The cost of child care is another obstacle,” Nickey said.

On average, it costs Henry County parents roughly $5,287 to enroll a 4-year-old child in child care for one year. Nickey estimated that cost eats up between 18 to 34 percent of a low-income family’s annual income.

“The Henry County Early Learning Coalition is working to address gaps in lack of quality care through a collaborative approach,” Nickey said.

Sixteen local programs met Jan. 10 to learn about the grant and the possibilities it could provide for Henry County, Nickey said.

The project, “An Investment for the Future,” provides a mixed delivery system with ICAP Head Start, Blue River Developmental Preschool, South Henry Corporation, Agapé Learning Center and Early Learning Adventures Child Care committing to achieve a Level 3 on Paths to QUALITY.

“This unique partnership will provide approximately 200 more high-quality early childhood slots in Henry County,” Nickey said. 

The Henry County ELC hopes to have those additional spots open within the next year. 

The Early Learning Coalition will be able to buy equipment for the new classrooms, pay for professional development for teachers and fund salaries for three new preschool teachers around the county, Nickey said.

Nickey is especially appreciative that the Office of Early Childhood grant is helping cover the costs of a preschool teacher at Blue River Valley Elementary School and two new teachers at Agapé.

“Most grants don’t allow for that and this one did, which I love,” Nickey said.

The grant also covers costs associated with meeting Provider Eligibility Standards. Nickey wants to purchase materials about Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Awareness, as well. 

She said the state money will allow local organizations to put on more family engagement activities, like the “Trail Tales: A Stroll in the Park” event June 16 at Memorial Park.

Nickey announced Tuesday that Agapé is also receiving an additional $63,000 from Early Learning Indiana for capital improvements. This means they will be able to open a preschool classroom and have more infant/toddler care space available.

The Henry County Early Learning Coalition meets from 3:30-5 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month at the Hope Initiative Building, 1426 Broad St., New Castle.

The meetings are open to the public and new community partners are welcome.

“We are very excited about this collaborative project,” Nickey said. “It is our intent to involve as many different groups and individuals who want to make a difference in Henry County. We need you and your ideas to address early childhood issues in our community.”

To learn more about the Henry County Early Learning Coalition, contact Nickey at (765) 748-9664 or HC Early Learning Co-Coordinator Debbie Polston at (765) 624-9946.

The Henry County Early Learning Coalition grant is part of a $1.5 million initiative that Governor Eric Holcomb signed into law as part of his 2017 Next Level Agenda.