There's something missing in Lycoming County and it's a void felt by our school districts, childcare providers, parents and most importantly, our children. What's missing is LEARN.
LEARN, the Local Education and Resource Network, is a team of volunteers who live and work in Lycoming County. The team met each month to discuss projects, community events and ways in which the group could positively impact children. The mission of the LEARN team always has been to engage members of the community in order to ensure that children are receiving quality early childhood education.
The LEARN team, coordinated by Beth McClain, consisted of teachers and superintendents, childcare providers, social workers and library staff who gathered each month to promote the importance of quality early childhood education and to distribute early learning materials to children and families free of charge.
At top, children have fun on the playground at the Children’s Development Center. Above, is Mrs. Jensen, kindergarten teacher at Avis Elementary School. The children in Jensen’s class are happy to take home their own copy of “Stop Snoring, Bernard!,” compliments of the LEARN team of Lycoming County.
"We have a wonderful group of people from right here in Lycoming County who are dedicated to serving families of children birth through age 6," McClain said. "In addition to their work responsibilities, these indivisuals also found the time to volunteer at the LEARN table each month. Together we planned community events, working together to distribute books and early learning materials while continuously helping to unite childcare and kindergarten teachers."
Unfortunately in 2012, the new state budget did not allow further funding for LEARN and the program went by the wayside.
"LEARN was such a unique organization with an incredible impact on the community," McClain said. "This is why we are fighting to have the program resurrected. But we need help from our community."
LEARN recently became a program of the education department at Lycoming College. Currently the team is actively seeking funds by way of donations and grants in order to revive the program. McClain has been working with Dr. Amy Rogers, director of teacher education at Lycoming College, in order to get LEARN reestablished.
The department of education at Lycoming College is reinstating and managing the program for the greater benefit of children and parents in the community as well as students seeking teacher certification.
"As the education department develops teachers educated in the diverse and broad-based traditions of the liberal arts, faculty and students work through collaboration, reflection and practice. Students will be an integral part of LEARN in distributing resources as well as spending time in the local early childhood learning classrooms.
"The value of field experience in teacher preparation programs has the potential to encourage crucial professional skills such as collaboration, leadership, teamwork, reflection, critical thinking and the ability to communicate effectively," Rogers said. "Collaborating with community members on LEARN will greatly benefit all stake-holders."
Together, the pair have been writing and submitting grants to reinstate LEARN as well as meeting with potential program partners who might help sustain it.
"In the past we've relied solely on state funding to sustain the program but now that it's gone away, we need to look for funding on the local level in order to bring the program back to the community," McClain said.
Finding local funders makes the most sense, said McClain, because it is the children in the community who directly benefit from LEARN efforts. From the LEARN office, state-level early learning materials such as activity calendars and learning wheels are bought and then paired with informational pamphlets and brochures from local organizations represented by the LEARN team volunteers. Together the team works to distribute the information throughout the community at no cost to the schools or the families of the children.
For example, information about free children's programming at the James V. Brown Library might be combined with a brochure about Early Intervention services. A packet like this would be given directly to parents during community events such as First Friday or distributed by a partnering agency.
When a parent visits their local WIC office, they might see LEARN resources there and take home a "Learning Is Everywhere" calendar with ideas on how to engage in early learning with their child.
During a visit at their pediatrician's office, a parent could pick up a flyer with dates regarding kindergarten registration as well as a learning wheel with age appropriate learning activities for their child.
Through LEARN, state-level materials are made readily available to parents, schools and childcare providers who otherwise would not receive them.
"It is this network, working so hard to reach every member of the community, that makes LEARN a unique resource in Lycoming County," McClain said.
In the meantime, a number of LEARN projects have been placed on hold. In the last year LEARN was operational, nearly 1,000 pencil boxes were stuffed with school supplies such as safety scissors, notebooks, crayons, pencils, erasers and glue sticks and delivered to incoming kindergarteners during evaluations at participating school districts. The children were able to take the boxes home in the spring and use them all summer in order to familiarize themselves with the tools they would need to have mastered by the time they entered kindergarten in the fall.
LEARN also was the organizing force that delivered thousands of PA One Books to children across Lycoming County. Business leaders, board members, fire and police personnel and mayors were matched with classrooms where they read the selected book and afterwards, gave a copy of that book, on behalf of LEARN, to each child as well as a book for their classroom's library. Recipients of the books are children in childcare facilities, preschools, as well as those who visit their local libraries and attend kindergarten. In LEARN's last year, more than 3,300 children received a book to take home.
"We are working diligently to reinstate LEARN here in Lycoming County and remain optimistic that the community will embrace LEARN once again!" McClain said. "We're anxious to bring back the programming and resources that have been sorely missed by teachers, parents and children in our community."
Funders will see immediate results from their donations, McClain added. Contributions will immediately restart the program.
"Investing in LEARN is making an investment in our children," McClain said. "By providing these resources to those responsible for their early childhood development, we can say we're doing all we can in order for them to succeed."
For more information about LEARN, or to become a donor to the program, contact Rogers at email@example.com or call 570-321-4312.