Every educational journey has to start somewhere, and for many families in the Wayzata School District, that journey begins at the Early Learning School along County Road 101 in Plymouth.
"The kids are running around, playing with each other. It's just a really warm, great place to see kids and young parents," said Robin Henslin, Wayzata's early childhood special education supervisor.
If you step inside one of the classrooms, you'll find preschool-age children singing songs, while the adults learn about the basics of parenting.
"We realize and we completely understand and embrace the fact that parents are the child's first and best teacher," said Sandi Arndt, Wayzata's early childhood education coordinator. "And so we want to provide the parents with the skills to be able to work with their children at home as well."
The district moved all of its early childhood programming into this building in February 2016, and over the past two years, it's become a one-stop-shop for families.
"It's kind of like the place where school begins for kids in Wayzata," Henslin said.
Kids can get their state-required screenings done here, and they can get the help they need to be ready for kindergarten.
"There's a difference between children who attend an early childhood program and those who don't when they come to kindergarten," Arndt said. "It's very noticeable."
That's especially true if a child has been identified as having a disability or a delay in development. Six hundred students are enrolled at the Early Learning School, and among them, 200 are part of the special education program.
"And our staff goes out and works with families in their home when they have a child that's been identified with a disability or a delay in development, and really is supporting that family in raising their child and helping them to develop," Henslin said.
Yet that's not the only time educators get to leave the building for programming. The district also has an outreach team that teaches classes at several local apartment complexes.
"There isn't the transportation barrier," Arndt said. "We're able to offer classes close to their home, so they can just walk from their apartments here instead of trying to get to our building. Plus they're with people that they're more familiar with and more comfortable with."
This program is the result of a partnership with the local nonprofit, Interfaith Outreach. It's set up so that anything that's taught at the main building is also taught at the apartment complexes.
"The partnership with Interfaith has been very key with this, because they had the relationships established with the communities, and then they also provide the volunteers for us to help work within the program," Arndt said.
Ultimately, the goal is to provide children and their parents with the tools they need to be ready for kindergarten and beyond.
"I really feel like our partnership is just giving more opportunities for young children and their families," Henslin said.
Jan. 25, 2018