INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Through the collaboration and generosity of various community groups, Dodgertown Elementary has a special voluntary pre-kindergarten class that serves as a model and conversation starter for other VPK programs around Indian River County.
The Education Foundation of Indian River County partnered with the John’s Island Foundation and the John’s Island Service League to generate the funds needed for the VPK class at Dodgertown Elementary.
While the classroom itself is not much different from the other VPK classes at the school, it has positioned itself as a place for those who provide kindergarten-readiness programs to get ideas and find support.
“We’re only as strong as our collaboration,” School Readiness Coordinator Kim McCorrison said of all the county’s VPK providers.
Voluntary Pre-K is for children age 4 and focuses on getting the children ready for the classroom.
The John’s Island Foundation donated $25,000 to equip the classroom while the John’s Island Service League donated $35,000 for a teacher and teacher’s assistant. The Education Foundation came up with another $10,000 to round-out the model program.
Going forward, the state will continue funding it, Education Foundation Director Cynthia Falardeau said.
The community groups, along with members of the Indian River County School District, gathered at Dodgertown to officially dedicate the classroom, though it’s been operating since school started.
“It’s been pretty real since August,” said VPK teacher Deborah Iacono when asked about the dedication’s impact. “It’s a beautiful room. My kids are so happy.”
Iacono teaches 18 students in her model classroom.
The students performed two songs for the community groups, singing about how love builds a bridge to connect each other.
“‘Thank you’ seems so inadequate,” McCorrison said, addressing the audience. She later noted that it is her hope that the classroom will start a conversation within the School District and the community at large regarding the importance of quality pre-kindergarten programs.
“Pre-kindergarten is called the gift that keeps on giving,” Schools Superintendent Dr. Fran Adams said, explaining that early learning has such an impact not only on students’ academic futures but also on their families and the greater community.
Falardeau said the model VPK classroom was a project four years in the making. The Education Foundation applied for an Impact 100 grant at that time but was ultimately turned down.
The project, though, caught the eye of Hope Woodhouse, a member of the John’s Island Service League, who worked with Falardeau to get the funding in place.
“You know a winner when you see it,” Woodhouse said, explaining that it was a project worth supporting.
Woodhouse also announced that the Service League has agreed to fund $35,000 to expand the VPK program into the summer to help combat what education professionals call the “summer slide” – the loss of progress during the summer months.
Instead of VPK students being out of school for nine weeks, they’ll have 3 ½ weeks off, which will help them be all the more ready when they enter kindergarten in the fall. Ninety children identified as “at-risk” from throughout the county will be able to participate in the summer VPK program at Dodgertown.