By Lethbridge Herald on September 17, 2020.
The Lethbridge School Division and the YMCA have partnered to provide an Early Education Program.
With space becoming an issue at Coalbanks Elementary School, the Cor Van Raay YMCA facility on Lethbridge’s westside will be the site for three- and four-year-old children to begin their learning experience.
“This is a partnership that’s new for the Lethbridge School Division,” said Isabelle Slomp, Early Childhood Services co-ordinator for the Lethbridge School Division. “We obviously run our programs through our school sites, but with Coalbanks having space constraints we entered into some discussions with the YMCA starting last fall and we were able to arrive at this in terms of space for our three- and four-year-olds to have their learning journey start. It’s an important program in that is sets foundations for the rest of their learning life as well as life in general.”
The Early Education Program is set up for children who have identified needs, said Slomp.
“That is the premise of our program. We open it up to the public as space is available beyond that and our neuro-typical developing children set up great role models for our three- and four-year-olds who are working on skills and development areas where we are supporting them to grow and nurture further development.”
Jennifer Petracek-Kolb, CEO for the YMCA of Lethbridge, noted the union with the school division was an ideal fit for both parties’ outlook on early learning.
“When the school division approached us last fall about potentially housing their Early Years Program we saw that as a genuine fit for YMCA in our effort to be more engaged in the community and to build strategic partnerships. Also, we appreciate the premise of the school division’s program around early learning and play. It’s a great fit for the YMCA’s own child-care philosophy. So we moved ahead to figure out what this looked like for them.”
The Early Education Program has a focus on brain development, said Slomp.
“We’ve partnered with the neuroscience department at the University of Lethbridge and Dr. Robbin Gibb has developed an executive functioning curriculum for three- and four-year-olds that we implement across our school division and we’ve had wonderful results.”
Operating out of the YMCA also gives the children ample gym access that would otherwise be limited on a school site due to the number of classes needing to use the gyms.
“Here they have six beautiful gyms we can access,” said Slomp. “We have 45 minutes of gym access each day. As we move along in our partnership, I don’t know if there will be other opportunities within the building, but we’ll see as time goes by. Our little ones do need that space to explore their motor skills and explore that socialization in a different format and get used to different venues in terms of listening and learning. Most of it is play-based and that’s the child’s way of learning. So our play opportunities are extended into the gym as well as going outside when we can.”
Classrooms are a maximum of 20 children with one class running in the morning and the other in the afternoon, Monday through Thursday, said Slomp.
The Early Education Program is a pilot project this year, said Petracek-Kolb.
“We really wanted to understand what this would look like and what was working and what we might have to look at differently as we come to learn more about how the program will operate and whether or not the YMCA is suiting the needs of the program.
“What we love about this idea is it brings more people to the facility. For those who might not have had a chance to come and see the amenities offered this gives some exposure to the building. But also our Early Learning and Child Care program for the YMCA is just down the hall. So we have children who come to the early years program for the school division and they come to the YMCA Child Care Centre before or after the program which has been a really great complement for parents who need to have some kind of care arrangement for their children throughout the entire day.”
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