The Child Development and Family Center (CDFC) at NIU has received a $1.6 million award from the Illinois State Board of Education to provide full-day preschool services to more DeKalb children.
The Preschool for All Expansion (PFA-E) program increases access to full-day early childhood education and comprehensive services to the most at-risk 4-year-olds. This grant provides funding for 40 preschoolers.
“For children and their families, PFA-E provides another opportunity for a great learning experience that these children will greatly benefit from,” said Lisa Schmidt, Practicum Director for the Child Development and Family Center.
The Expansion program focuses on the child’s social and emotional development to prepare them for kindergarten, and the teachers in the program work hard to create an environment conducive to children’s success, Schmidt said.
Additionally, the program has a family coordinator who works with families to facilitate access to needed services such as dentists, doctors, and other community-based services available through the county health department and social service agencies.
The grant represents the only PFA-E in the DeKalb county area. Additionally, while most programs are half-day, NIU’s CDFC Expansion program is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and wraparound child care services are available to extend the day from 7:30 a.m. through 5 p.m.
“We are providing families with 7 hours of free, early childhood education, and care for 5 days a week. This will have a tremendously positive impact for the child; as well as, providing support for the family,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said they are continuing to identify families in the community who could benefit from the program. To take advantage of the program, a child must be 4 years old and from a family with income at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. Other risk factors are assessed upon application. Families do not have to be affiliated with NIU, and the program is inclusive for children with disabilities.
“Our focus is to seek out and find the most at-risk children in our community who are just about to go into kindergarten. Some of these children potentially haven’t been in an early learning environment before,” Schmidt adds.
In order to get these children ready for a day at school, the program focuses on social/emotional development in terms of self-regulation.
“Sometimes children are coming to us with trauma, and when you’ve only been on the planet for three or four years, we find these children need intentional and consistent positive guidance, social/emotional intervention, and experiences in high quality supportive environments. Our Expansion teachers can give them help regulating their bodies and their emotions so they can effectively engage in a classroom where learning can happen,” Schmidt said.
The program has potential benefits for NIU students in the Human Development and Family Studies program as well. Opportunities for experiential learning and in-class observation will be developed, offering students insights on serving at-risk children and their families.
“The additional of PFA-E programming at the CDFC represents a significant evolution in the programming offered by the CDFC,” said Thomas Pavkov, chair of the School of Family and Consumer Sciences at NIU. “PFAE represents a “win-win” as it provides free early education resources for families in the community and also provides experiential learning opportunities for students. We know from data collected around the state that PFAE programs do a great job preparing children for kindergarten. As a model program, the CDFC represents a significant resource for the DeKalb/Sycamore area and the Northern Illinois region,” Pavkov added.