Early learning program has free preschool spots

Time running short for low-income families to get kids enrolled in ECEAP

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter



Early Childhood Education Assistance Program

• Educational Service District 112 is seeking to enroll 100 children in part-day classes at its Early Childhood Education Assistance Program centers in the areas of the Vancouver, Evergreen and Battle Ground school districts. Parents interested in full-day programs can sign up for a wait list, and the district notes that can move quickly.

• The free program serves families whose income is at or below 110 percent of the federal poverty level or who face other risk factors. Parents can call 360-952-3470 to find out if they’re eligible and to apply for enrollment.

Ashley Horn and her daughter, Icess, have each grown in their own ways since the 4-year-old girl enrolled at the Hough Early Learning Center a year ago.

Icess counts, knows how to write her name and other letters, and has discovered her own musical talent, her mom said, adding that her daughter “amazes me sometimes when she comes home.”

The center, meanwhile, has connected Horn with GED classes, job leads, bus schedules to get to work, and temporarily, a room at Open House Ministries for her and her four children.

“All the way, they were giving me resources, giving me job leads, directing me in the right direction while helping my daughter learn,” said Horn, a single mother who lives in Vancouver.

It’s success stories like these that Educational Service District 112, which administers the program through money from the Department of Early Learning, is touting to urge low-income parents to sign up for one of the 100 free part-day preschool slots in the Vancouver, Evergreen and Battle Ground school district areas.

But the district is running up against the calendar. Parents must enroll their child in one of the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program spots by Oct. 19, or else the state may redistribute the spots elsewhere in the state.

“We know this is a tremendous resource for families,” said Jodi Wall, executive director of Early Care and Education with ESD 112.

To qualify for one of the ECEAP spots, a family’s income must be at or below 110 percent of the federal poverty level — for example, an annual household income of $16,020 for a family of two or $24,300 for a family of four.

Families do not have to live within the school district boundaries, and they can choose which centers work for their schedule. Currently, the spots are only available for three-hour, part-day slots, but the district notes that full-day spots frequently come open.

ECEAP programs serve 3- to 4-year-old children with preschool instruction, and provide referrals to outside housing, employment, educational and other resources for their families.

That wrap-around support is a keystone of the program, according to Chvonne Wardrop-Long, an ECEAP family service worker.

“Those resources could be anything from getting clothes to getting them to food,” Wardrop-Long said.

That approach helps the program support the child in all areas of their life rather than just the few hours a day they spend in a classroom.

“When the parents aren’t doing well, then the children aren’t going to be doing well,” Wardrop-Long said.

That approach has changed Horn and her children’s lives. Horn works at Burger King at Jantzen Beach, and recently bought a car. Her next goal on the path to self-sufficiency is to complete cosmetology school at the Aveda Institute and eventually find a full-time job.

“If you are willing to put in the work, they are willing to help you and guide you in the right direction,” Horn said.