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Estevan Family Center achievements highlighted at meeting

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The Drop In Family Free Play program at the Estevan Center nearly reached the 2,600 participant mark in March.

WEYBURN – In Jacquelene Gibbs' world, being forward-thinking is a remarkable and desirable trait. But even she probably couldn't have foreseen how quickly community acceptance has grown around the South East Cornerstone Public School Division's Early Learning program, which serves the youngest members of the SECPSD family.

Newly developed and successful projects have resulted in the number of participants in some programs more than doubling and the associated demands on skilled personnel being met with outstanding talent.

Gibbs was in the Cornerstone conference room on May 22 to explain the processes and procedures of this portfolio to an attentive audience of board members and administrators. The group meeting was part of the monthly board meeting at the school division's main office in Weyburn.

Gibbs is the early learning system coordinator at Cornerstone. Nine other professionals who handle various programming needs and other staff members keep the projects and programs moving forward. These needs are brought up early in a child's worldly adventures and continue until age five, when youngsters are then prepared to enter grade levels.

She took the time to highlight the Estevan Early Years Family Resource Centre, which is bustling with activities and participants. The number of families enrolled in the last month is now over 507, compared to just 24 at the start of the new program launch in May 2021.

The Drop In Family Free Play program at the Estevan Center nearly hit 2,600 in March. Gibbs noted that this program could be twice as big if they had the space for it. She said some program participants can “escape” to the nearby field and an outdoor play area is being developed.

Early learning programs also include mobile outreach adventures in numerous communities and regions.

The support system includes home visits, information provision and transition support.

The preschool program is also constantly growing and the number of students is increasing as the children learn through play and experiences with their adult educators and other children.

Gibbs noted that the province's priorities around learning and assessment and Indigenous education programs will be adopted by the SECPSD, including a focus on educational instructional coaches to support Level 1 instruction for teachers of all grade levels.

Instructional coaching, particularly for newly arrived educators, is an important part of the program, along with programming for Indigenous educators, mathematics and English as a second language, all led by dedicated coaching leaders.

She noted that the portfolio has two overarching parts. These parts are the new teachers and instructional aids from pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 and the early learning programs from birth to Grade 5, which support the province's priorities and assessments.

The connection begins long before the child starts school, and possible venues could include other places, such as libraries or, as she suggested, a program at an ice rink.

Like other areas of Cornerstone, programming is data-based, and Gibbs brought those facts to the table along with examples of strategies to support the young participants and their valued educators. She mentioned how new teachers are brought on board and connected with coaches and other supporters as they begin their careers at SECPSD.

She noted that there had been a reduction in staff, but that they were coping with increasing demand and enrollment.

“Teachers can hone their practices on site and the principal knows what to look for when they walk into the school,” Gibbs said. That way, they get a clear picture and teachers' decisions are made a little easier. She noted that the assigned coaches are just that. The teachers make the decisions, the coaches “stay on the sidelines” after they provide their help. This year, the focus was on the new teachers, Gibbs said.

This school year, there were five orientation sessions for new teachers, followed by a survey/data collection to track the trainers' assignments.

Education Director Keith Keating added that district superintendents are also following up to make sure nothing is missed.

In other words, new teachers can rely on having a coach at their side.

Indigenous education programs include treaty outcomes and educational experiences for the youngest.

Gibbs spent some time in her half-hour presentation explaining things like the Master Minds program, which is popular with families, how the youngest participants learn through play, how their progress is documented, how families are included in discussions about the learning experiences, and how the young children interact with one another throughout the program.