Ligonier Valley School District applies for grant
The school board unanimously approved Monday applying as a partner in the Western Pennsylvania Consortium's application for an Early Head Start Childcare Partnership grant.
If received, the federal grant would allow the district to provide space for Seton Hill Child Care Services to serve eight infants and toddlers up to age 3 at Laurel Valley Elementary.
“It would solely be Seton Hill's program,” Superintendent Dr. Chris Oldham said. “We would just be providing space for them.”
Oldham said when the consortium looked at Westmoreland County for the application, New Florence was recognized as an area faced with poverty and a lack of early childhood opportunities.
Oldham and Principal Ed Moran explained that while there are slots available for early head start childcare in other parts of the county, there are not slots in the New Florence area, or northern end, of the district.
Early literacy, like talking and building vocabulary, received in head start programs becomes important when children are of school age, Oldham said.
“What we're seeing with students who are coming into kindergarten is a large number of students who have not had any early childhood care, and we are seeing gaps in literacy and numeracy when they're coming into kindergarten,” she said.
To be accepted into the program, families would have to meet income guidelines.
“It would provide (care) for those most impoverished famlies,” Oldham said.
The grant is for a 5-year program, Oldham said.
“I think it's a great idea,” board member Irvin Tantlinger said.
Additionally, the board unanimously approved applying for a Pre-K Counts four-year state grant in partnership with Seton Hill Child Care Services to provide instruction to 4-year-old children at R.K. Mellon and Laurel Valley Elementary Schools.
Oldham said the district hopes to receive $250,000 through the grant to cover costs such as furniture and educational materials and pay for two teachers and two aides. Additionally, the grant would pick up the cost for each student, which is approximately $7,200 per child per year. Oldham said approximately 17 students would be accepted for the program at each elementary school, which would follow the regular 180-day school year.
“Being able to get those kids at 4 years old and really begin to transition them into kindergarten is so important,” Oldham said. “We're just seeing tremendous needs - children who are coming into kindergarten and they don't know the difference between a letter, a number and a shape. Some of them have never held a pencil in their hand.”
“We really want to get these kiddos and their families earlier so we can start to make that difference,” she said.
Oldham said the district applied for the grant last year, but did not meet eligibility. By partnering with Seton Hill, Oldham feels confident about the district's chance of award.
Board member John Maier expressed concern about the future of state grant money having financial implications on the program. Oldham said the program has a history of receiving support.
Oldham is unsure when the district will hear back about the both applications' results.
The next meeting is 7 p.m. Sept. 8 with a planning session at 6 p.m.
Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or firstname.lastname@example.org.