WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. — The Opportunity Council is increasing the number of preschool opportunities for families in Bellingham, Blaine and Lynden this coming school year.
The expansion will include more preschool seats as well as a longer school year and some longer days of service thanks to a Washington Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF) grant to expand Opportunity Council’s Early Childhood Education & Assistance Program (ECEAP) across Whatcom County.
That’s good news for local families and preschoolers in households of low to moderate incomes, said David Webster, director of the early learning department at the Opportunity Council.
“More classroom time means more time to focus on promoting kindergarten readiness, supporting healthy development, and increasing family engagement,” said Webster. “The expanded days and program year also help reduce the stress on working families in a county that has been designated as a ‘child care desert.’”
This expansion includes adding a new classroom in Lynden and expanding preschools located at Bellingham’s Birchwood Elementary and Blaine’s Primary School to full day programming.
With this additional grant, the Opportunity Council now offers 173 ECEAP preschool seats. The agency also operates 220 federally funded Head Start preschool seats and 18 locally funded seats. These preschool classes are distributed across public school districts and public housing developments in the county. Two classrooms also operate in partnership with Whatcom Community College and the agency has long-standing partnerships with several area private child care providers who offer the state preschool program over an extended day of 10 hours for working families.
Head Start preschool programs are typically four hours per day, four days per week, but Webster said that federally funded program is also now tilting toward longer days and school years for preschoolers. A request for applications to expand the length of days and program year is expected out soon and the Opportunity Council hopes to pursue those dollars to take more Head Start seats to full day and expand the positive impact of quality early learning.
“Science has shown that in order to maximize K-12 academic success and future employability as adults, communities needed a commitment to expanding preschool for young children, including longer days and longer program year,” Webster said, noting brain development research at the University of Washington, Harvard University and other higher education institutions support the impact of early learning programs on that once-in-a-lifetime window of a child’s brain growth.
Families with three or four-year olds can apply for the agency’s preschool programs online, www.oppco.org, or at the agency’s office at 1111 Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham. There is no charge for the agency’s preschool programming.
For more information, visit the website or contact the Opportunity Council at (360) 734-5121.
Distributed to Whatcom media outlets.