Nourishing the minds of homeless pre-schoolers

This weekend’s Taste of the Nation Orlando on Saturday, June 5th is all about ensuring that no child grows up hungry.  As an agency that helps almost 200 homeless kids every day whose average age is six, we are grateful to be a local beneficiary.

What better time to tell you about one of our children’s services that nourishes kids’ minds while their parents work their way back to independence…the Voluntary Pre-kindergarten (VPK) program.

Our commitment to minimizing the obstacles homeless children might face starts with preschoolers; and we’ve had an on-site Early Childhood Development Center since 1996 for kids from six weeks to four years old.  In January 2008, we added an on-site VPK program for our four-year-olds, a tool designed to help level the academic playing field for impoverished preschoolers:.

Emphasizing high quality education with an early literacy focus, the mission of VPK programs is to ensure that all children are intellectually, emotionally, physically and socially ready to enter school and ready to learn, fully recognizing the crucial role of parents as their child’s first teacher.  Although the program is certified and monitored by the Office of Early Learning, each site develops and implements their own appropriate curriculum, based on kindergarten standards adopted by the State Board of Education.

Vinnie Vivian, Director of our Early Childhood Development Center, oversees our VPK and prepares the curriculum, drawing on her experiences as a public school teacher and preschool owner and operator.  She carefully constructs the lessons to hold the kids’ attention, while teaching them to master shapes, colors, numbers and letters.

“We are excited to be able to offer disadvantaged children access to the same opportunities as a privileged four-year-old.  While parents are focused on regaining self-sufficiency for the family, we can adequately prepare their children for school, an indulgence that otherwise may not have been considered a priority during hardships,” Vivian explains proudly.

To showcase the students’ progress and help their kindergarten teachers anticipate a new student’s capabilities, Vivian creates a portfolio for each student at the end of the program to take with them to kindergarten.

VPK classes are held in our Learning Lab five days per week, three hours per day, during the school year and really give our kids an early push towards success.