COVID-19 Innovation: Pathways Launches Virtual VPK Program To Keep Immokalee Students On Track For Success

kindergarten
An important keystone for a child’s success and readiness for Kindergarten is also social-emotional development. Through this virtual program, students will be engaging with their fellow virtual students, in-person students, their teacher, as well as Pathways’ volunteer mentors. Photo credit Shutterstock licensed.

NAPLES, FL – Pathways Early Education Center of Immokalee Florida is pleased to announce that the center has launched a pilot program to provide Virtual Voluntary Pre-kindergarten (VPK) education to engage Collier County’s most vulnerable children.

COVID-19 has brought many challenges for the families and businesses of Immokalee, a community where the poverty rate is over 50%. During its 56 years serving the community, Pathways has remained a beacon of hope for a diverse group of families seeking a better life for their children through education. In order to safely re-open its doors and welcome children back into an in-person learning environment, Pathways has had to implement new policies and procedures, re-organize staffing, and unfortunately reduce the number of children in the Changing the Path program by 32%.

Many of the families who have children enrolled at Pathways were impacted by coronavirus, with multiple family members becoming ill. The ongoing pandemic left several families too afraid to send their children to an in-person VPK program because of underlying health conditions.

With virtual VPK options not an option in the area, Pathways’ executive director decided to act. Inspired by the organization’s mission to provide exceptional educational programs for all children, she challenged her team to come up with a virtual program that would meet four criteria:


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  1. Be safe and accessible to families without internet access
  2. Keep the young children engaged and excited to learn
  3. Show demonstratable improvements in language and literacy
  4. Make the virtual students feel like they were a part of the real classroom

On September 21, Pathways Early Education Center of Immokalee launched a pilot program with five of its students who are unable to return in person. Families were provided with a tablet, mobile hotspot, and safety guidelines through a grant from Empower ED by T Mobile. Each morning, virtual VPK students will join the “Creators” classroom for circle time. Through interactive technology, virtual students will be introduced to all of the children and engage in the center’s literacy-based ELLM Curriculum. In addition to time with the in-person class, virtual students will have small group time with each other and their teacher to focus on language and literacy skills. Each virtual student will have three-to-four hours a day of virtual learning with Pathways’ model. It is spread throughout the morning and afternoon to meet the developmental needs and appropriate instruction for the age of the children.

An important keystone for a child’s success and readiness for Kindergarten is also social-emotional development. Through this virtual program, students will be engaging with their fellow virtual students, in-person students, their teacher, as well as Pathways’ volunteer mentors. They will be able to collaborate during hands-on lessons as well as having fun with physical activities like yoga and dance.

Throughout the year, the virtual students will have the same benchmark assessments and individualized Pathways Plan to overcome any developmental delays. Because the five students in this program have previous assessments from their teachers, Hatch expects to have a more accurate understanding of how to successfully expand the program.

“The ability to help shape the future success of our children through their multiple year preparation for Kindergarten is why our team is committed to take on new way of learning. Losing this critical VPK year for these five children was not an option”

Beth Hatch, executive director of Pathways Early Education Center of Immokalee.

The center has applied for Collier Cares grant funding to expand the Virtual VPK program. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, Pathways relies on grants and donations to provide tuition assistance, teacher salaries, and enriching hands-on activities through a nationally-recognized curriculum to Change the Path for Immokalee’s next generation. For more information on how you can help Change the Path, visit www.PathwaysEarlyEducation.org.

The Florida Department of Education has now provided criteria for early education providers to receive state funding for a Virtual VPK program. Pathways program does meet all learning requirements. However, accepting state funds would require Pathways families to send their children for in-person learning in January 2021. To protect the established trust with their families, Pathways is declining this option.

Pathways Early Education Center of Immokalee is a nationally accredited early education center, providing extraordinary education and nurturing child care services for 56 years. As a leader in NCEF’s Early Learning Initiative, Pathways collaborates with other nonprofits to implement groundbreaking programs that close education gaps by delivering high-quality Early Learning programs. Pathways’ goal is to provide the children of Immokalee a hands-on, language-rich learning environment with exceptional education opportunities. The center’s students are actively engaged in a developmentally appropriate, nationally recognized curriculum and assessments. With literacy-based programs, Pathways prepares students to be ready for kindergarten. The goal is to ensure all the students have surpassed their initial developmental delays and have a 100% of the students prepared for when they enter kindergarten. Parents and caregivers are involved throughout their child’s learning in order for them to become their child’s self-confident parent advocate for years to come. For more information, visit www.PathwaysEarlyEducation.org.

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