The difference between the two siblings was stark.
Jack Powell knew what a sentence was, where it started and how it ended in punctuation. He could tell right to left, and what greater-than and less-than meant.
Sarah Powell couldn’t believe what her son had accomplished. The Greenwood resident wasn’t able to send her oldest son, Jacob, to preschool, after she suffered from medical issues when he was that age. But when Jack was old enough, she enrolled him at Early Learning Community, a Greenwood-based preschool.
His development was astounding compared to his brother at the same age.
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“He was so much more advanced,” Powell said. “Jack’s not going to have any problems like his brother, who didn’t have any idea about the structure of school or what to do. He had such a hard time, and Jack already would do fantastic in kindergarten.”
Since it was founded in 2010, Early Learning Community has provided children such as Jack and their families with a high-quality preschool focused on foundational academics and social-emotional development.
A key tenet of the non-profit school is ensuring all families have access to excellent early learning opportunities.
The preschool is preparing to move into its own building in the first half of 2020, which will provide more opportunities for children.
“It’s going to expand what we’re currently doing,” said Dawn Underwood, director of the preschool. “We don’t have anything like it here in the county.”
Early Learning Community is a non-profit community preschool, which provides services to children ages 3 to 5. Preschool leaders developed a curriculum to ensure that kids are ready in all aspects for kindergarten.
Points of emphasis center on kindergarten readiness using programs such as Handwriting Without Tears to teach writing letters and three different types of social-emotional learning.
Ensuring children are ready for kindergarten remains a challenge for schools, not just in Johnson County, but throughout Indiana, Underwood said. In Johnson County, 2.1 percent of children were kept for a second year of kindergarten, according to the Indiana Department of Education. That cost county schools more than $259,000.
Jenny Crowe discovered Early Learning Community while taking her son, Max, to the story time at Greenwood Public Library. When they researched the school and learned more about it, they felt it would be a perfect place for Max.
“I really liked how they talked about learning through play-based activities. For me, it was hard enough sending him to a preschool; he was my first child,” she said. “But it made it seem like it was very similar to things we do together at home. He’s not sitting at a desk for two hours. He’s going to be playing and learning without even realizing it.”
Over the two years that Max was a student at the school, he was able to master sounds and simple words. By the time he finished the program and moved on to kindergarten, he was able to read a book out loud to his class.
Equally as important was the social development he gained during his time there, Crowe said.
“He had been at home with me all his life. When we’d go to story time, he wouldn’t even sit up front at story time, he’d sit next to me. I was nervous that he wasn’t going to enjoy preschool, but he loved it,” she said. “He had great experiences with all of the kids in the class. It introduced him to other cultures, other ways of learning, other behaviors. It was a learning tool for him.”
The preschool currently operates out of a pair of Greenwood Community elementary schools — Northeast and Westwood. But plans are in place to move to a new location in Whiteland in the coming months.
The new facility will allow Early Learning Community to put additional emphasis on science, technology, art and math, as well as advance its social-emotional curriculum. A new reading program will allow kids who are not reading at their age level to receive additional instruction and, hopefully, catch up, Underwood said.
“We really want to provide an affordable, accessible opportunity for families in Johnson County to be reading up to level,” she said. “We really don’t have anything like that here.”
The facility is also planned as a lab preschool, where students at Franklin College, Ivy Tech Community College and Central Nine Career Center who are interested in going into education can get practical experience.
Training with other childcare centers would also help focus on providing the best early childhood education throughout Johnson County.
“We really want this to be a training center for our community, and even outside our community, with high quality and best practices,” Underwood said. “It will be available for people to come and learn from what we’re doing.”
Officials have been applying for grants and fundraising the past few months, hoping to raise $175,000 for building renovations and to better facilitate the preschool.
Dine-to-donate events and a Giving Tuesday campaign blitz have been the primary efforts. Underwood has also reached out to past and current families as well as other supporters to use Amazon Smile or Kroger Plus, which raise small amounts of money for certain causes every time users make purchases.
“It’s been a challenge. I’ve made a lot of connections, and I’m excited to continue those relationships,” Underwood said. “But it takes time. People get used to making the same donations to the same organizations.”
In the meantime, Early Learning Community continues its mission to prepare more children for kindergarten.
Jami Herron found Early Learning Community while searching the internet for a preschool for her daughter, Rylee. A tour of the facility at Northeast Elementary made them feel it was a good fit for Rylee.
“She went right to playing and didn’t want to leave,” Herron said. “It felt like the classroom was home away from home.”
Rylee attended the school for three years, and is in kindergarten now. The family had such a positive experience that they sent their second child, Grant, who just started as a 3 year old.
“At first, she was really shy and timid. But they watched her grow up. When she went to kindergarten, she had all of these essential skills that other kids didn’t have,” Herron said.
Those developmental successes have made parents such as Herron and Crowe supporters of the preschool. But as impressive has been the care and attention staff members have shown to make the school feel more like a family.
Emily Cole’s daughter, Kelly, is in her first year at Early Learning Community. Last year, Cole and her husband were searching for a way to send Kelly to preschool. But Kelly has type-1 diabetes and needs to closely monitor her blood sugar levels at all times.
Cole was trying to find an established school where she’d feel comfortable that her daughter’s medical needs would be taken care of. Early Learning Community checked those boxes.
“It was inside an established elementary school, with a nurse there, so that made me feel better. Obviously, education was important, but that was one of the first things I was looking for,” she said.
After they signed up, Cole worked with associate director Ashley DeLong and teacher Julie Welling to put together a team plan that included every staff member at the school, to make sure everyone knew how to care for Kelly.
That entire team, along with the school nurse at Westwood Elementary, met with the Coles before the school year to go over that plan.
“They really made my husband and me very confident that they’d be on top of it,” Cole said. “It was an incredible relief to know that this team of people were very organized and cared about giving my daughter the same experience that the other kids are going to have in the class.”
Powell suffered from a condition destroying her pancreas and forced her to have the organ transplanted, which compromised her immune system. That made it impossible to send Jacob to school, for fear of the germs he might bring home.
By the time Jack was ready for preschool, the danger wasn’t as great. But her medical issues had left the family with hefty medical bills.
When Powell interviewed Underwood and instructors at Early Learning Community, she made it clear those bills impacted how much they could pay for preschool.
Underwood explained that as a non-profit organization, they can offer financial assistance to ensure that all families have a pre-school option for their kids.
“They don’t turn any family down, ever. They would work with us, no matter what, so that my child could get a good education,” Powell said. “That meant so much to me. It’s like a family.”
At a glance
Early Learning Community
What: A nonprofit organization offering full and half-day preschool programs for children ages 3 to 5. The school provides a play-based learning environment in alignment with the Indiana state preschool standards.
Where: Splits time between Westwood and Northeast elementary schools in Greenwood
Information about tuition and registration: jclearningcenters.com or call 317-883-7099. Scholarships are available to Greenwood families that have a four year old child attending half-day preschool and that meet federal income requirements.
How to help: Early Learning Community is hoping to move into its own building in Whiteland. In order to renovate the classrooms, the school needs to raise $175,000. To donate or learn of fundraising events, go to jclearningcenters.com/how-to-help