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Hempfield's Tiny Town Early Learning Center gets great big grant

| Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, 7:45 p.m.
The center plans to supplement two computers that students use on a regular basis. Hard at work (from left) are Sadie Miller, 3, of Greensburg; Teagan Leighty, 3, of Jeannette; Ariana Shrum, 4, of Greensburg and Aryonna McGregor, 5, of Greensburg.
Assistant director Lindsey Stevens reads to (from left) Mackenzie Thomas, 5, of Greensburg; Lydia Smith, 4, of Jeanette; Nicholas Mendoza, 5, of Jeanette and Alivia Glessner, 3, of Greensburg

Tiny Town Early Learning Center in Hempfield attributes its success to a library filled with interactive materials, a wonderful outside play area and its desire to welcome children to the wide world technology.

And the state Department of Education apparently agrees.

The center is among 129 early-education providers across Pennsylvania to be awarded a Pre-K Counts grant.

Owner Kathy Hopkin of Greensburg said center employees learned in late July that it would receive $314,400.

“We put a lot of work into it,” Hopkin said of the application submitted this spring. “We were happy when we were notified that we would be getting the grant.”

Pre-K Counts provides half-day and full-day pre-kindergarten services to children who meet certain criteria. The center offers free Pre-K Counts preschool through the state Department of Education and is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. It is ranked as a 4-Star Facility through the Keystone STARS program.

The state increased funding for the Pre-K Counts program by $4.5 million, or 5 percent, in the 2013-14 budget.

“Quality pre-kindergarten programs like Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts are proven to prepare at-risk children for success in kindergarten and beyond,” Gov. Tom Corbett said in a statement. “I am pleased that the General Assembly shared my vision to increase funding for this important program that will serve an additional 580 children in the upcoming school year.”

Lindsay Stevens of Greensburg, the assistant director at Tiny Town, said most of its grant will be used for technology at the center, which serves children from ages 1 through 12.

“We are going to be incorporating iPads into the classroom so the children will then be able to take photos of what they are doing and send them to their parents throughout the day,” Stevens said. “We are going to be adding maps and pictures to our block center and we are also going to be adding an interactive white board for more interaction. The children will then use the technology to show a picture instead of looking at only flat pictures in a book.

“Technology is important because that is what they will be growing up with,” she said.

The child care center opened 24 years ago, when Hopkin was looking for a profession where her children could be included.

“These types of facilities were very, very new back then,“ Hopkin said. “I was going to the University of Pittsburgh at the time and knew that I wanted children, so I asked myself: What profession can I have that I can take my children with me?”

Hopkin started small. The center has since grown to employ several qualified instructors who tend to more than 100 children throughout the day.

“Everyone here is certified,” Hopkin said of her staff. “Everyone has or is working on a degree in early childhood education.”

The teacher-to-child ratio is 1 to 5 for toddlers and 1 to 10 for preschoolers.

The center offers a large library with interactive books and other materials the children can manipulate. The center has several play areas, including a large outside play area. Lunch, dinner and snacks are offered to the children.

“We are in a great location here with a wonderful view for the children,” Stevens said of the country setting on Middletown Road. “One day we'd like to look into expanding the facility itself.”

The center's toddler care program, for children ages 1 through 3, is designed to aid physical, mental and social development during those critical years.

The center offers extended hours.

“We are open until midnight,” Hopkin said. “Many parents who work the 3-to-11 shift have a difficult time finding child care so we offer the longer hours to accommodate them. We have people who work as far as the Uniontown hospital who come to us because of our late hours.”

The new equipment has already been ordered.

“I'm really excited about what we will be able to do,” Hopkin said. “Using the whiteboard, children who have never been to the ocean can be at the beach and children will be able to actually see the pyramids as if they were actually in Egypt. It's endless.”

The center has openings for additional children. For information, call 724-834-6899.

Marilyn Forbes is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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