Helping new parents fulfill their role as a child’s first teacher and improve early childhood learning is the purpose of two programs highlighted Monday during the Hastings Board of Education meeting.

The board heard about the Adams County Family Engagement/Home-Based Services and the Hastings School-Child Care Partnership programs during the Spotlight on Learning component of the meeting.

Wendy Keele, director for the programs, said the programs strengthen parenting skills, increase parent knowledge and work to grow resilient families. Funding for the programs comes from Sixpence, a public/private partnership that aims to prepare Nebraska’s vulnerable children for success in school and life through early learning opportunities in the first three years.

“We want parents to be realistic and supportive of their children,” Keele said. “We want to build resilient families.”

Sixpence was established in Nebraska in 2006 thanks to a $60 million endowment.

The Hastings program started in 2015 with a focus on teen parents and can serve 12-15 mothers. Currently, 14 young mothers are in the program, Keele said.

In an effort to help disadvantaged families, the program is designed to serve infants and toddlers whose families have at least one of five identified risk factors: poverty, premature birth, English as a second language, parents younger than 20, or parents who have not completed high school.

The Family Engagement/Home-Based Services program works with teen parents through home visits and community outings to improve early childhood learning and make sure youngsters are prepared for preschool.

Every month, the group conducts a social event that includes a meal and educational piece, which includes an activity for parents and children to interact and learn at the same time.

The monthly events also provide a support system for the young parents.

“They create friendships there because they are all experiencing the same kinds of things,” Keele said.

The Hastings School-Child Care Partnership program helps child care providers in the community. The program partners with three child care centers and two home child care providers to provide additional resources to improve programming for children.

Program coaches meet with providers once a week to offer support. The program also provides help for continuing education requirements.

“We emphasize reading at an early age,” Keele said. “Young children are sensory learners. We do a lot of play because that’s the best way for them to learn.”

In other business Monday, the board approved a $137,000 contract with Implementation Consulting Group of Cedar Rapids to provide educational systems coaching. The agreement will be made effective as of May 10, and terminate on May 31, 2022.

Superintendent Jeff Schneider said the company will provide coaching support, focused on reading in kindergarten through second grade. He said the district’s reading results aren’t where school officials want to see them.

ICG will work with instructors and other school staff to design a systematic approach to modify the school district’s current reading curriculum to improve the end results.

Schneider said funding for the coaching will come from federal money that went out to help schools with high amounts of poverty, as defined by the federal guidelines for free or reduced lunch.

Some schools had to use the money to make preparations to reopen classrooms to students, but Hastings already had been able to make that transition. Instead, Schneider said, the district will use the funds to help compensate for the loss in learning that occurred due to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic.

He told the board that the teachers aren’t to blame. Teachers are working hard to get every student up to the appropriate reading level by third grade, but it’s more difficult to reach some students.

“They’ve used every tool in their toolbox and don’t know what else to do,” Schneider said.

In other business, the board approved the second reading of the revised special education policy and reaffirmed the superintendent succession plan.

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