During our monthly community check in call this week, Ethna Flanagan, San Juan County Early Childhood Education and Assistance coordinator, noted that two schools had recently closed on San Juan Island, leaving many working families in crisis. She attributed the health of our local preschools and childcare centers, in part, to the support of the Early Childhood Education Initiative (ECEI). ECEI is one of the programs that falls under the fiscal sponsorship of OICF (we also sponsor the Island Reproductive Health Initiative and the Dental Van). OICF stepped in to sponsor these programs when they could not find an existing nonprofit with the capacity to take them on.
ECEI was formed in 2017 as a collaboration between all the preschools and several generous donors who understood the value of high-quality early childhood education for all. At that time, Orcas had four programs, and if they were at full capacity, we would still be about 10 seats short in order to serve every child. It was also apparent that while there was assistance for some families through ECEAP, there were many working families who did not qualify for the assistance and who could not afford tuition.
The goals for the ECEI include providing every child the opportunity to attend high quality preschool. ECEI provides funds to each school to provide scholarships, as well as funding support for staff education opportunities and for wage increases. While many of the programs still struggle to attract and retain staff, they have been able to remain open. Kaleidoscope has even started a Forest School and has purchased property near the golf course to provide an outdoor education program.
The success of the ECEI rests with the strong leadership at each of the schools and generosity of donors and other funders. It is a truly collaborative effort and such a valuable investment assuring our youth get the best start they can. What a positive step towards the future.
I hope you have a great weekend,