Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program teacher Kim George works with Myles Chambers, 5, during a recent classroom exercise at Vaughn Elementary School. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

Young children from 36 Key Peninsula families are getting a boost toward kindergarten through the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECAP).

According to Caren Halvorsen, an ECAP family support specialist, both Evergreen and Vaughn elementary schools have ECAP programs.

“It’s all about kindergarten readiness,”Halvorsen said. “But it’s more than just learning the ABCs and 1-2-3s. It also helps kids learn how to sit in a classroom with their peers and negotiate with their peers, and well as being a good friend.”

And because it engages parents as well as their children, Halvorsen said, ECAP is actually preschool for the whole family.

She said the program encourages families to have their children get dental and well-child exams, and it also helps parents who might want to go back to school themselves.

“The wants and needs of our families here on the Peninsula are very individual and I try to help parents attain goals they might have for their family, even if it’s as simple as having a reliable vehicle to get them to and from school or a job,”Halvorsen said.

In fact, at Vaughn Elementary, in a room adjacent to ECAP’s portable classroom, there’s a family resource center complete with a mini library, treats and a wall hung with children’s clothes and shoes for those in need.

And it’s all free.

Kim George is the lead ECAP teacher at Vaughn. She and assistant teacher Barbara Thomas focus on the teaching aspect while Halvorsen focuses on the family dynamic.

The ECAP program has been at Vaughn for about 25 years and George has been part of it for nine years.

“This program is so important because it provides free preschool to families who might not have the resources. It provides transportation, there’s health and food resources and resources for the whole family––not just the child,”George said.

Children come to the ECAP program for three hours a day, Monday through Thursday.

As soon as the kids arrive at school, they all go into the cafeteria and have lunch, Halvorsen said.

“Then we have some outside time to get the wiggles out and get some fresh air and interact with one another on the playground,” she said, beaming.

After playground time, everyone goes into the classroom for circle time––where all sit on a rug, sing a song and settle down, she said.

Every day a different student is designated “Helper of the Day, too,”George added.

“On their special day they get to have their name written on the board. They’re the line leader and they help with the calendar. That gives each child an opportunity to feel special and it gives the teacher the opportunity to really focus on that child,”she said.

The calendar is another important learning experience.

The children talk about what month it is and what day of the week it is.

“And we talk about things like what sound does our month have for its beginning sound,”Halvorsen said. “For instance, March starts with ‘mmm,’the taste-good sound. Wednesday it’s the ‘Wow!’sound. That calendar piece is hugely important.”

Halvorsen is emphatic about the value of the ECAP program.

“This is an amazing resource for kids and families on the peninsula. It helps so much in getting ready for school, but it even gives parents a little bug to get involved with the classroom. Really amazing things can happen. There are also opportunities for parents to get involved in the whole ECAP planning process for the whole district,”she said.

Jennifer Carter is one of those parents who got the little bug to help in the classroom. She started volunteering in George’s classroom because her kids were in the program.

“I got involved because I didn’t like sitting at home,”Carter said. “That got me into subbing in ECAP and then Kim suggested I just become part of the program, so now I’m full-time.”

As an ECAP parent, Carter is very aware of the benefits.

“It helped my kids so much when they went into kindergarten. It helped them be prepared for what they needed to know, like learning to write their name and recognize their letters and numbers,”she said.

Carter urges other parents to learn more about the program.

“Don’t be shy about signing up for this program, because there are great benefits. There are so many ways to help families who are in need in any kind of way like counseling or other programs.

“And it’s really good for kids –– they get interaction with other kids and a good lunch and snack, and transportation. That really helps a lot, especially for those without cars,”she said. “And it’s all free.”

Registration for the 2015-2016 school year are now taking place through the end of June, Halvorsen said.

For information, call (253) 530-4761.

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