Building a solid foundation

ESD program at Washougal elementary school helps young students grow, learn

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Reed Ebeling (left), Erin Ebeling and Susan Bennett of General Federation of Women's Clubs Camas-Washougal during a recent 1,2,3 Grow and Learn session at Hathaway Elementary School. (Photo submitted by Rene Carroll)

As a Washougal School District board director, Teresa Lees has high praise for Educational Services District 112’s 1,2,3 Grow and Learn program, which purports to provide growth and learning skills to young children in Clark County.

“I appreciate the fact that (ESD 112) took the effort to make this program, and that it’s free and inviting,” Lees said. “It’s very fun and family-oriented. Anybody can come, and there’s no limit to how many kids can come. It gets the community involved, and I like that. People are thinking past money and thinking more of families.”

Lees sees the program from another perspective as well. Two of her children – Charley, 3, and Ryker, 10 months, participate in the weekly sessions at Hathaway Elementary School.

The 1, 2, 3 Grow and Learn group is a child/parent drop-in program available at Hathaway to children up to 5 years of age living in Camas and Washougal.

“We were attracted to it because it’s an (early learning) program, but I could still be there to participate,” Lees said. “Charley gets to play with other kids her age, (which is important) because there’s a big gap between her and her next oldest sibling. And it’s free — that’s a big thing.”

The program, which began in 2001, operates in 18 schools within ESD 112 boundaries, mostly in Vancouver. The Hathaway group, which began in September 2017, meets every Wednesday from 9 to 10:30 a.m., September to June.

“It just keeps growing. We’ve been very consistent (with attendance), with about 17 to 20 kids every week,” said Sarika Mosley, Hathaway’s principal. “(Hathaway) is kind of a hub location because it’s in the center of town. We have the district’s family resource coordinator and the Head Start program and the developmental preschool here. Because we have all of these programs, it’s ideal for families to have access to our building. We want to be that central spot. And (1,2,3 Grow and Learn facilitator) Julie Jacobson says that our school is the most welcoming in all aspects.”

The Hathaway group, which is led by Jacobson and ESD 112 early childhood education specialist Erin Maher, “tends to be one of our largest attended groups on a consistent basis,” according to Michelle Aguilar, ESD 112 Child Care Aware manager.

“A couple weeks ago they had 10 brand new families all come on the same day. All (of them) heard about it from different places,” Aguilar said. “I know there’s some (local) child-parent meetup groups on Facebook, and one (parent) said, ‘Let’s go to Grow and Learn for our meetup,’ so we had all these littles come (one day) because the group chose to have its meetup at Grow and Learn. That community has done a fantastic job of spreading the word.”

ESD 112 views the program as a preschool alternative.

“(The program) is unique in that it (serves) a blended age group,” said Tracy Butler, ESD 112’s early learning coordinator. “We are seeing is there are more and more families that are falling into this gap. They don’t qualify for state or federal funded programs, whether that be preschool or Early Head Start or any of those sorts of things, but they can’t afford to pay for some sort of formal early-learning experience themselves. What’s great about this program is that it’s free for parents. It’s drop-in, so they don’t have to sign up or register or do any of those things. They can literally come when it’s convenient for them. The overwhelming response (from parents) is this is a necessary program that they wouldn’t be able to access without us.”

Children and their parents participate in a variety of activities, including singing, crafting, breathing exercises, show-and-tell and snacking, with a focus on child-to-child and parent-to-child interaction.

“(The program focuses on) developmental needs and building the skills (children need) for social interactions (and to foster) the parent-child bonding that’s still happening,” Mosley said.

There’s also a focus on books and reading. The General Federation of Women’s Clubs Camas-Washougal has partnered with ESD 112 to bring its Reach for The Stars Through Books program to the Hathaway group.

The program provides each child with a backpack filled with age-appropriate books and additional learning aids upon their seventh visit to the group.

“I like that books are brought in so kids can start to learn to sit and pay attention,” Lees said. “By listening to a story and recognizing pictures, Charley can interact with the teacher to tell the story. She can start to recognize letters and practice them. The kids learn that letters and not just lines, and if you put a bunch of letters together, that makes a word and a story. Most of the kids aren’t ready to read yet, but they’re introduced to the concepts.”

The parents also benefit from the program in several ways.

“It’s great because the kids are so little, and they still need their parents,” Lees said. “I can help (Charley) with her letters, drawing or crafts. The parents interact with each other, get ideas from each other, help each other out. That’s important because for some parents, it’s their first child, and they need an adult to talk to after being around their child for a long time. They need that adult conversation.”

But for Lees, the ultimate signal of approval for the program comes from her daughter.

“Charley loves it,” he said. “She gets to play with friends and play with toys and eat snacks and sing songs. She thinks she’s going to school because that’s what her siblings do.”