Helping Kids Along

Playground photo

These are difficult times for agencies that serve young children.

The Community Foundation’s 2013 survey of child care found that recent cuts in federal aid have forced some preschools and day care centers in our area to close. Others are now offering subsidies to fewer low-income families. As a result, more parents are putting their children into unlicensed care, where they don’t always find rich programming or a safe environment.

In 2014, the Foundation will make a major grant to assist early childhood programs. But we’re also pleased to see how some of our recent grants are helping to nurture the next generation, from toddlers to teens.

For example, a $2,000 grant sent educators from the Corning-based Regional Science and Discovery Center into several Tioga County preschools last fall to teach young children the basics of math.

While math is critical in nearly all fields, by the time they start contemplating careers, many students have fallen behind in that subject, says Patricia Dann, the Center’s executive director. “And once the students fall behind, it’s almost impossible to catch up.” Given how easily three- and four-year olds soak up knowledge, preschool is an obvious place to lay the foundations for future mastery, she says.

The five-session pilot program taught skills such as counting by twos and fives, taking measurements and recognizing numbers rolled on dice.

In Oneonta, toddlers at the Bugbee Children’s Center are enjoying a “monkey tree fort village,” a garden maze and other features in a playground funded largely by a $15,000 Foundation grant.

The toddler playground replaces older equipment that was becoming unsafe, says Marie Petta, the center’s director. The new structures take advantage of natural features on the property, giving the children a better chance to explore the outdoors. “They’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to use their bodies and enjoy the different areas,” she says.

With help from a $12,211 grant, the Morris Central Schools not only gave children in grades K-8 a safe, fun place to spend mornings during the summer of 2013, but also made sure those kids didn’t forget what they had learned during the school year.

Kids returning from summer vacation often show a dramatic drop in academic skills, says Deborah Chicorelli, director of pupil personnel at Morris Central Schools. To prevent that loss, the summer program included 45 minutes a day of math games, reading, tutoring, skits and other educational activities.

“In 2012, the reading scores of 80 to 100 percent of the kids fell over the summer,” Chicorelli says. “This year, they either stayed the same or rose.” And 73 percent of kids in the program maintained or improved their math skills, she says.

Another summer program, at the Mary Wilcox Memorial Library in Whitney Point, gave kids ages 12–18 a chance to gain new skills during a three-part theater workshop. A grant of $1,880 from the Foundation allowed participants to learn stagecraft, makeup and hair styling, create scenery, props and costumes and stage a show for local day care and preschool children.

Besides offering constructive fun, the program showed the kids what the library has to offer, says Janice Orzell, president of the library’s board of trustees. “Some of the students hadn’t been in the library before, nor had their parents.” Several returned to get library cards, and some dropped in to visit throughout the rest of the summer.

Children with developmental disabilities and their siblings often live in different worlds, says Jennifer O’Brien, executive director of the Magic Paintbrush Project. Throughout 2014, the Project is collaborating with Binghamton’s Roberson Museum to create Link’d In, a program to help individuals with special needs and their siblings grow closer and learn to work together. A $6,500 grant covers most of the cost of this series of fun and instructive activities.

Among its many benefits, the program helps siblings learn to advocate for one another and get ready for the day when their parents can’t serve as caretakers, O’Brien says. “We’re providing a place for courage to be built and grown for the families. There will be a lot of trust going on, and a lot of trust grown.”

Young people 12 and up will get help preparing for higher education and the workplace thanks to the Broome Youth Collaborative Project, spearheaded by the United Way of Broome County. The Foundation used a competitive procurement focused on adolescents to choose this project for a $50,000 grant over two years.

Under the initiative, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County will teach staff at five after school programs in Broome County to implement the Youth Community Action Model. This model helps young people master skills they need for success in higher education and the workplace. The partner organizations will also explore ways to share resources.

The Youth Community Action Model has already produced good results in other regions, says Phillip Ginter, director of community impact and engagement at United Way of Broome County. “It has led to more youth entering and completing post-secondary education or training, and to youth developing work-readiness skills, particularly some of the soft skills such as peer relations and getting along with supervisors.”

Given all the challenges that families face today, our region is fortunate to have so many programs to help give our young people a solid start.


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