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Children’s Advocate Named to Close Gap in Early Childhood Education
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Children’s Librarian Elise DeKlotz engages children during the giveaway of kindergarten readiness kits at Hailey Public Library.
   
Sunday, November 20, 2022
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

The Wood River Women’s Foundation has taken the next step with its early learning initiative with the appointment of Kathryn Ivers as the project director of the Wood River Early Learning Collaborative.

One of Ivers’ first tasks was to form an Advisory Council to steer the creation of an early education community for all young children in Blaine County, especially those from underserved families.

The Wood River Women’s Foundation selected early childhood education—specifically, what they called “Closing the Opportunity Gap in Education”-- to be the focus of its first ever Focus Grant. It is collaborating with the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children (Idaho-AEYC) on the project.

 
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One couch fits all as the 2- to 5-year-olds listen to a story following the distribution of Kindergarten Readiness Kits at the Hailey Public Library.
 

The special purpose grant totals $200,000 over a two-year period with half being awarded in 2022 and the other half in 2023.

While the Wood River Women’s foundation has played a big role, it is a community education collaborative, rather than strictly a WRWF collaborative, said WRWF spokesperson Renee Spooner.

Ivers, a resident of the Wood River Valley since 2006, has been engaged in nonprofit work and promoting opportunities for children and families in education-related settings in the Wood River Valley since moving here full time in 2006.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Affairs and Psychology from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., and a Master of Arts in International Affairs and Juris Doctor degree from Columbia University in New York.

 
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Mary Jacobs uses stuffed owls and other animals to harness children’s interest during story hours.
 

A longtime advocate for children, she has conducted a needs assessment for street youth in Portland, Ore., worked for an NGO promoting human rights in Geneva, Switzerland, and helped persuade organizations to provide basic services for street children in Brazil. She also served on a team that reformed New York City’s child welfare system, provided social services to families in crisis at Brooklyn Legal Services and helped start mediation programs for children at risk.

“Kathryn’s broad and unique background, which combines community psychology, human rights advocacy, nonprofit leadership and a passion for improving the lives of children and their families, makes her ideally suited to lead this effort,” said Martin Balben, Early Learning Collaborative Project director for Idaho-AEYC.

One of Ivers’ first actions in addition to establishing the Advisory Council was to distribute 30 Kindergarten Readiness Kits to 2- to 5-year-olds at the Hailey Public Library last week. The kits are designed to help families prepare their children for kindergarten. The event, which coincided with Wild Wonders: Idaho Family Reading Week, included an hour’s worth of story time.

Ivers followed that up with a second giveaway of 40 Kindergarten Readiness kits on Friday at the Bellevue Library. That event also included story reading and interactive play-based tables with items similar to those included in the kits.

 
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Kathryn Ivers, right, takes part in the distribution of the Kinder Kits at Hailey Public Library. COURTESY: WRWF
 

 

A child learns at a speed unmatched the rest of his or her life from birth to age 5, and those early learning experiences influence success in school and beyond.

But every year 40 percent of children walk into kindergarten one to three years behind because their parents are working long hours and don’t have time to work with them on learning and socio-emotional skills. Or the parents don’t know how to help their children prepare.

Children who are unprepared for kindergarten often struggle to catch up. They form the largest group of dropouts and have less than a 12 percent chance of attending a four-year university.

“A significant number of children in the Wood River Valley do not have the basic skill sets to be successful when entering Kindergarten,” said Ivers. “Given the critical work of the Early Learning Collaborative, I jumped at the chance to improve systems for early child care and education.”

Members of the initial Wood River Early Learning Advisory Council represent a variety of fields, including public school education, childcare centers, health care, businesses, nonprofits and the Hispanic community. They are:

• Elise DeKlotz, Hailey Public Library, children’s Librarian

• Harry Griffith, Sun Valley Economic Development, Executive Director

• Jane Lopez, The Hunger Coalition, Community Organizing Supervisor

• Janet Salvoni, Community School, Elementary School Head and Idaho AEYC Board Member

• Jason Shearer, Wood River Community YMCA, Chief Executive Officer

• Jim Foudy, Blaine County School District, Superintendent

* Kathryn Ivers, Wood River Early Learning Collaborative, Project Director

• Kristen Gearhart, Bellevue Public Library, Executive Director

• Laura Rose-Lewis, I Have a Dream Foundation Idaho, Executive Director

• Sarah Seppa, St. Luke’s Director of Community Engagement/Manager—Center for Community Health

* Martin Balben, Early Learning Collaborative Project director—Idaho-AEYC

*Heather Lee, Idaho AEYC

“The energy and passion of the initial Advisory Council members is remarkable,” said Ivers. “Community members throughout the valley have expressed their enthusiasm and we welcome their contributions at any time.”

Blaine County School District Superintendent Jim Foudy said the advisory committee brings together a thoughtful, innovative team of experts with a singular, shared focus for supporting early learning.

“This is the strongest opportunity we have to positively impact children before they enter kindergarten,” he added. “A broad-based community effort that engages families in meaningful ways is critical to this effort."

Louisa Moats, co-chair of Focus Grant 2022 and a leader in the initiative said the council is a positive step toward building transformational solutions for early childhood care and education needs in the valley.

“The Advisory Council, comprising talented people from all areas of the community, is well positioned to create an infrastructure and lasting systemic change that will improve the community as a whole,” she said.

The council’s next step will be to survey businesses, early childcare and education providers and families and community members to determine what the needs are and determine why some families do not have access to preschools or other support before kindergarten.

They hope to finalize the Needs Assessment by the end of January 2023. Once the data is in hand, they will begin a community-drive strategic planning process that they hope to complete by the end of May 2023.

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