By John Michaelson
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (Dec. 10, 2013) — The goal is to have all children ready to learn when they reach kindergarten, and a program in Central Minnesota is focused on making sure the same opportunities for success are available for children of immigrants and refugees.
According to Jane Ellison, who manages the Access Project in Greater St. Cloud, when early childhood programs were first established, new populations weren’t really considered.
“So, the primary goal of the Access Project really is systems change,” she said. “So, it’s an opportunity for immigrant and refugee community members and early-childhood professionals to get together and take a look at how we need to adjust the services that exist now, so they are accessible to immigrant and refugee families.”
In Minnesota, only about 60 percent of kindergarteners are considered “school ready” and the rates for children from disadvantaged backgrounds are even lower.
One way improvements are being made is with a scholarship fund set up by the last Legislature, to enroll more low-income children in high-quality early learning programs. Ellison said another part of the effort is aimed at getting more immigrants working in the field of early childhood education.
“So, in order to facilitate that happening, one of the projects of the Access Project is to recruit and support immigrant and refugee community members to actually become licensed in various early-childhood professions, so that they can provide the service directly.”
Among the students pursing a career in early learning through the program is Florence Orionzi, who’s also a member of the African Women’s Project.
“When you come to live in a different place, you come with different experiences and so, sometimes it is looked at as if you don’t know anything, but you know a lot … just different,” she said. “So, Access is allowing for the different experiences and different knowledge to be heard.”
The Access Project is funded through a grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, as part of its statewide Growing Up Healthy initiative. Research shows that quality early childhood development sets the stage for success in school and later in life.
More information on Project Access is at bit.ly/18luu50. Minnesota School Readiness Study is at bit.ly/IqXUnK.