Much of the work done at Oakland Schools centers around children who are actually of school age – those in kindergarten through high school.
But there’s a huge part of Oakland County’s population that are too young to be in school, yet, could really benefit from some extra resources.
That’s where Oakland Schools Early Childhood Unit, housed inside the District and School Services Department, comes in.
“We are really about supporting children’s optimal development prenatally through third grade,” explained Kellye Wood, director of Oakland Schools Early Childhood Unit.
According to Wood, there are three main aspects to Early Childhood.
The first is overseeing and supporting what are known as Early On Michigan services, which are provided by school districts and other partners, to those from birth to three years of age. Early On is a Michigan Department of Education initiative, but Oakland Schools is responsible for referring youngsters who may need additional support or who are eligible for special education services.
Wood said Early Childhood orchestrates over 2,000 referrals to this program a year.
“It’s often parents calling who are concerned about something with their infant’s or toddler’s development and they aren’t sure what to do about it, so we help connect them with programs or professionals who can help them figure out what’s going on and why their child might need some future support,” she explained.
The second main program the Early Childhood Unit works with is the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), Michigan’s state-funded preschool program for four-year-old children who have factors that put them at greater risk for educational difficulty.
Wood said the Early Childhood Unit serves over 3,000 GSRP children in over 45 programs. These programs include all 28 public school districts and 17 others available through a variety of partners, such as community-based organizations.
“It’s a major part of our work,” said Wood.
Third, the Early Childhood Unit plays a key role in the Great Start Collaborative-Oakland, an early childhood system building group that meets quarterly to discuss needs and services for children from birth to age 8 and their families.
“It means we are working with stakeholders across the county, most especially those who are parents of young children, as well as others who support young children, their development and learning in some way,” explained Wood, who added the group meets to make sure all programs offered to local children are coordinated in the most effective manner possible.
“Before children are kindergarten age, it’s very diverse – the services and supports available across our community – so we try to make it a more seamless system for young children and families to access support and just to help when they need it.
Other members of the collaborative include those from Oakland County’s Health Department and educators from various Oakland Schools’ districts.
The Early Childhood Unit also oversees three key hotline numbers that serve to help connect Oakland County families with the services they may need: an Early Referral Hotline, where parents can call about their child’s development; a Free Preschool Hotline, where parents can ask about free preschool options available to them; and a Behavior Hotline, mostly used by teachers or directors of preschool programs who may need extra assistance in helping a child.
“All three of these hotlines help us connect really whomever calls,” said Wood. “These hotlines are critical to what we do because the prenatal- to age 5-landscape is so diverse with programs. We do try to provide one stop shopping.”
Wood added Early Childhood is also responsible for running many professional development trainings for teachers and others who educate and serve young children, including preschoolers, toddlers and infants.
So how does this unit of 15 prioritize its work, which is estimated to serve a minimum of 5,200 youth in the county?
“We have a strategic plan and we interweave statewide objectives like ‘children are developmentally ready to succeed in school at the time of school entry’ with our Oakland Schools Continuous Improvement Plan (CIP) Goals, such as Equity for all learners and Excellence in early childhood education and services,” said Wood.
Wood said the department recently welcomed three new employees: Chamayne Green, M.Ed., who will be a GSRP consultant, and two project assistants: Kelly Vargo, who will also work with GSRP and Karen DeLorge, who will be with the Great Start Collaborative.
Sarah Davis is a communications specialist with Oakland Schools. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.