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Learning center supports local school-age program
NEW ALBANY, Miss. -- School-age programs can take a backseat to activities for younger children at many child care centers, prompting Minerva Graham to change that situation at Rainbow Learning Center.
More than a decade ago, Graham was working as a schoolteacher in Tupelo, Mississippi, and her friend Shelia Sanders was providing in-home child care.
In 2002, the two women decided to go into business together and open Rainbow Learning Center in New Albany. The co-directors and co-owners have been working to provide quality child care at the center ever since.
Because of Graham’s background in education, she realized the center needed help providing quality child care for the large number of school-age children the center services.
“Nobody ever helps you with after-school children,” Graham said. “Most programs are directed toward younger children. We didn’t have anything educational for after-school.”
Then one day, Graham learned about a program that solved this problem. Graham and Sanders enrolled in the school-age program through the Early Years Network, a program of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
The program delivers educational technical assistance and support to providers who offer after-school, evening, holiday and summer care to school-age children.
For Ryan Rush, field technical assistant with the Early Years Network, the progress he has seen at the center since they began the program is impressive.
“This was one of the first centers to receive technical assistance when the Early Years Network got off the ground,” Rush said.
Rush and other staff members have worked through the years to provide training and support to the Rainbow Learning Center staff. The goal is to help staff members provide and improve high-quality, school-age educational experiences.
“You want to mirror the classroom in after-school programs and get the same results as what’s going on in the classroom,” Rush said.
Graham said working with the Early Years Network has been very beneficial.
“When Ryan came in, we were not quite the way we should be,” Graham said of educational opportunities. “He came in and showed us how we could easily rearrange what we’ve got.”
Now, the center serves an average of 30 school-age children a day. During the summer, it has weekly themes and field trips to help children continue learning through the break and to provide hands-on opportunities with each lesson.
When the school year begins, Graham and her staff meet with each child’s teacher.
“We have a folder on each child and their schedules,” Graham said. “We introduce ourselves to the teachers, and we tell them what we are doing at Rainbow.”
Graham said this step is important because sometimes the one-on-one time they get at the center is the only individual interaction the children receive.
Graham offered advice for any providers considering enrolling in the school-age program for their own centers.
“Kids come in, and they’re tired, and if you don’t entice them with something that’s relevant, you lose them,” she said. “The Early Years Network technical assistance shows you what to do and how to retain it.”
Louise E. Davis, MSU Extension professor and director of the Early Years Network, said Graham and her staff are great examples for other providers.
“We commend providers like those at Rainbow Learning Center for being committed to providing high-quality educational experiences for all age groups,” Davis said.
The Early Years Network is a program housed in the MSU Extension Service and funded by the Mississippi Department of Human Services Division of Early Childhood Care and Development to provide early care and education programs and materials for teachers, directors, children and families to improve the well-being of Mississippi’s children. For more information, visit the Early Years Network Facebook page or website at http://earlyyearsnetwork.msucares.com.