It’s that time of year again: “back to school.” As a dad with three daughters and as the leader of Easter Seals, where early education is core to our mission, I understand the mix of emotions – the anticipation tinged with apprehension – this time brings. I think it’s a time of wonderful possibilities, a chance for children to revel in the joys of learning, and an opportunity for parents to share the wonder of watching their children progress.
Part of what makes working at Easter Seals so exciting is we know that ALL children can learn and grow. Our Child Development Centers enable kids with disabilities and special needs to learn right alongside their typically developing peers, and everyone benefits from that inclusive approach. Typically developing children benefit from the extra training our teachers have and become leaders and role models while also learning that their friends with disabilities have plenty of abilities too. Children with special needs see modeling of age-appropriate behaviors from their typically developing peers and receive the maximum benefit from early intervention during the first five years of life, when 80% of brain development occurs.
We see the impact of our high-quality early education every day, but it becomes especially pronounced at this time of year when our “seniors” graduate from Easter Seals to attend kindergarten. We’re always thrilled to receive reports back from parents about how well prepared our children are to succeed in school, and it’s a pleasure for me to share one example.
In the summer of 2014, the Strong Start/DC Early Intervention program evaluated Grace because her family was concerned about her development. Testing confirmed that she had delays in several areas of development, most notably communication and social skills. Strong Start recommended Easter Seals’ Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Child Development Center because they knew we could provide full-time early care and education as well as the early intervention services Grace needed under one roof so that her parents could work and not be distracted with the myriad appointments that were needed for Grace’s success.
Grace started at the center in September 2014 when she was under two years old. Easter Seals’ speech language pathologist Maia Magder worked with Grace, her teachers, and family to help develop Grace’s language and social skills through practice and by prompting her through daily routines. She made astounding progress, and after six months had met all the goals on her treatment plan. A year after enrolling at Easter Seals, standardized testing indicated that Grace’s skills were well within normal limits for her age and some were even in the high average range. She was able to move on from early intervention services, but remained at Easter Seals.
Fast forward to 2017, and we find Grace celebrating her last day at Easter Seals. She’s leaving us to attend a Montessori public charter school where we are confident she’ll excel. On her last day, her grandmother Susan shared this lovely message with us: “Did not want to waltz away from Easter Seals without expressing profound thanks for a stellar experience. The past three years have been transformational for Grace. There is nothing better than a great launch for a youngster. Grace is happy, confident and quite in love with learning. All the best and thanks again for all you do!”
Easter Seals’ Child Development Centers provide services to ALL children – those who are typically developing AND those with disabilities or special needs; those who can afford to pay AND those from low- to moderate-income families. For those unable to afford the difference between actual cost of services and payment from insurance, Easter Seals secures grants from private foundations and government agencies as well as generous support from individual and corporate sponsors.
If you know a child who could benefit from high quality early education, please contact us, and if you’d like to support our ability to continue serving all who need us regardless of ability to pay, please donate here.