WORDS & PICTURES: Jessica Schubick
The Community Engagement team at the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County (ELC) is a newly-formed branch of the Child Development department supporting the ELC’s drive to make the community as strong and positive for families as possible.
Under the guidance of Director of Child Development Kerry Gaylord, Rachel Spivey heads this new team as Community Engagement Program Manager, with support from team members: Sheila Rainey, Community Engagement Program Specialist; Kelly McLean, Community Engagement Specialist; Ana Rodriguez, Community Engagement Literacy Specialist; Terry Wilson, Program Logistics & Transportation Manager, and Josh Weaver, Facilities & Logistics Support Specialist
Rachel Spivey explains that the team is not only new to the ELC, but they’re introducing new programs and resources to the community, as well. She explained: “Very soon we will be expanding our vehicles to a fleet of three buses serving the County. Currently, we have programing being delivered from the Kiwanis Book Bus and the STEAM Machine. Soon we will be adding a third bus that will be used to expand our STEAM outreach and include other programs to develop kindergarten readiness skills.
STEAM curriculum focuses on science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math. Promoting STEAM education gives children the opportunity to attain essential skills to connect ideas and integrate knowledge across disciplines, all the while capturing their attention. When students participate in activities that combine different elements of STEAM, they develop the following skills under the umbrella of the creative process: problem-solving creatively, increasing critical thinking, meaningful collaboration, formulating plans, and making observations.
“The technology going into the new STEAM bus is incredibly exciting,” Rachel explained. “There’s a unique sound system, so each of the four table top work stations will have its own sound capability. Depending on the lessons or the materials that we’re working on, we can create whole-sensory zones of learning. If we’re studying nature in one area, we can play the sound of wind resulting through the trees while children explore leaves in an art project. At the same time, in another area we can play classical music to support creativity while children build.”
The new bus will also have magnetic walls, modular furniture, and foldaway tables. There are plans for interactive projector that will allow for students to engage with the projections on the walls and floor of the bus. The team is developing this capability with LUMOplay interactive display software.
The Community Engagement team has developed a program schedule this year to go out to predominantly VPK classrooms. Each site will be awarded four STEAM visits from the STEAM buses, as well as a Literacy visit from the Book Bus. The program will reach roughly 50 schools with 100 classrooms serving 1,000 children during a year. With the growing fleet the team plans to increase these numbers.
The team also utilizes the Book Bus and STEAM Machine at community outreach events monthly – including Manatee County School District’s Soar In 4 programs. Additionally, the team attends or supports special events throughout the community all year round. The new Community Engagement bus was provided through the ELC’s strong partnership with the School District, and they are grateful for the opportunity to be able to reach even more of Manatee County’s youngest learners.
The ELC’s Community Engagement team is also introducing a new program for early learning sites called CATCH. CATCH (or “Coordinated Approach to Child Health”) is a comprehensive community health program that creates behavior change in children by teaching them to identify healthy foods and increase their moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) each day. The health education curriculum uses terminology for identifying healthful foods – GO, SLOW, and WHOA – that has been used colloquially nationwide as a simple means of labeling food’s nutritional content for young learners.
CATCH is designed and proven to coordinate healthy messages through the community and fully integrates the Center for Disease Control’s “Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child” model; the expanded Coordinated School Health approach. The CATCH preschool-based program is designed to encourage physical activity and healthy eating in children ages 3-5.
The ELC’s Community Engagement team is piloting the program with ten early learning sites in Manatee County. Their contributions to the sites include supplying the CATCH curriculum and materials. As well as providing training with ongoing coaching to these educators.
Rachel is thrilled with the results that CATCH has already shown nation-wide. CATCH is currently being used in 10,000 schools and communities across the U.S. and has proven to decrease childhood obesity by as much as much as 11%. A CATCH program in Los Fresnos demonstrated a 28% increase in MVPA in children enrolled in that community school district.
The program includes three components: 1) It’s Fun to be Healthy! Classroom curricula consisting of interactive nutrition and garden-based lesson plans and activities, 2) Structured physical activities provided in a CATCH EC Physical Activity Box, and 3) Family education including tips for parents to incorporate nutrition and physical activity into their home routines. It is a daily curriculum with lessons and activities that are approximately 30 minutes each.
In addition to the Community Engagement fleet outreach programs and CATCH, the team works throughout the year on many of the ELC’s literacy and community programs, including Deputy Friendly, Every Child A Reader, BLOCK Fest, and more. Rachel is thrilled to be a part of the ELC of Manatee County and says, “the innovation happening here is like no other.” “It’s very exciting that our ELC has this incredible vision and I am excited to further develop and expand our programing to support all of our county’s young learners.”
For more information about the ELC’s Community Engagement programs, contact Rachel Spivey at CommunityEngagement@elc-manatee.org or (941) 757-2900 ext. 238.