Page 19 - S36.Autumn 2019
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  Ensuring All Children Are Healthy and Prepared for School
by Joanne C. Kelleher, Director
Early Childhood Collaborative of Southington
For more than 15 years the Early Childhood Col- laborative of Southington (ECCS), a group of com- mitted educators, parents, grandparents, health- care and childcare providers, business owners, civic organizations and members of the community, has been working to improve the health, development and academic success of young children in South- ington.
The work started in 2003 when The William Cas- par Graustein Memorial Fund awarded a four-year grant to the United Way of Southington. The follow- ing year supervision of the grant was transferred to the Southington Community YMCA and in 2006 the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain be- came involved as the fiscal agent and took over the supervision of the organization.
During this time ECCS members successfully advocated to the Southington Board of Education for all-day kindergarten and established the Family Resource Center of Southington (FRCS). The FRCS, which split from the ECCS and is now a program of the Southington Public Schools (SPS), offers free educational programs and playgroups for children age birth to 5, with their caregivers.
In 2012 the ECCS developed a community plan by gathering data from many sources and holding community forums. The data collected via this on- going process has highlighted that the Southington community is changing from a socio-economic, ra- cial diversity and demographic standpoint.
The percentage of children in the SPS District who were eligible for free or reduced lunch has more than doubled, from 7.5 percent in 2008 to al- most 16 percent in 2017, with some schools having
an eligibility rate of more than 26 percent. The race/ ethnicity of the children in the district has changed from 90.4 percent white to 81.7 percent white dur- ing the same timeframe. Over the past decade be- tween 321 and 385 babies have been born annually to Southington families.
In 2017, over 16 percent of these babies had foreign-born mothers from countries around the globe. Approximately 100 more children registered for kindergarten in 2017 and in 2018 than were born here due to young families moving into town.
This community plan also monitors the num- ber of kindergarten students who have a preschool experience. This could include attending a nurs- ery school or childcare center with a preschool program or participation in a program run by the FRCS or the Southington Public Library. Although the ECCS is tracking an increase in the “Preschool Experience” rate, from 80 to 92 percent, the school staff are reporting these worrying trends:
n Decline in gross motor skills which are neces- sary for outdoor play and sitting upright
n Decline in fine motor skills which are neces- sary for holding a crayon or using scissors
n Decline in empathy, students aren’t recogniz- ing emotions
n Decline in self-regulation and their ability to control impulses
n Increase in “screen time” which has been shown to contribute to these other trends The ECCS is also concerned about a growing
child-care crisis around cost, availability and staff- ing. Full-time childcare can cost the same as tu- ition and fees at the University of Connecticut, over $250-285 per week. There are three times as many infants and toddlers in town than there are licensed childcare spots and many of the centers have long

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