Local program receives $65k grant

Courtesy of The Progress-Index

By Amir Vera, Staff Writer
Posted Oct. 30, 2014

HOPEWELL – School readiness begins before children even step into the classroom for their first day of kindergarten.

That goal is now more likely to be achieved in the region. The Hopewell-Prince George First Connections VA program, an initiative to better prepare children for school, was awarded a $65,000 grant Wednesday by the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation.

“This is a great testimony to early childhood education and a great opportunity for all us to look around the room and say there is much invested in early education in our community,” said Katie Sloan, coalition coordinator for First Connections VA Hopewell-Prince George.

The VECF is a non-profit organization that supports school readiness through developmental programs in early childhood. First Connections VA is actually an initiative by the VECF that began in Hopewell and Prince George in 2007. There are a total of 29 local Smart Beginning programs throughout the state.

The grant to the Hopewell-Prince George sector will help many early education programs such as Hopewell High School’s Gingerbread House, an interactive class in which high school juniors and seniors actually work with and take of 3 and 4-year-old children.

“Our students work with those children. It’s a teacher prep kind of a class, they make lesson plans, prepare snacks for the kids and participate in educational activities,” said Brian Capaldo, communication specialist for Hopewell City Public Schools.

Crystal Barnett is the career and technical education teacher for the Gingerbread House who has been teaching the class for 8 years and even went through the program herself when she attended Hopewell High School. She said students who complete the class receive a program certificate and, if they choose to, receive their Child Development Associate Credential.

“The goal is to get them to go into college so that they can complete an associate’s degree and then eventually a bachelor’s degree,” Barnett said.

Local politicians such as Del. Rosalyn R. Dance, D-Petersburg, and Del. Riley E. Ingram, R-Hopewell, as well as leadership in First Connections VA, the VECF and Hopewell Public Schools were all in attendance.

“It’s the most important thing we can do, giving our kids a good start,” said John Fahey, Superintendent of Hopewell Public Schools. “Early childhood starts everything off right.”

Amir Vera may be reached at avera@progress-index.com or (804) 722-5155.