“It takes a village to raise a child.” When that saying first emerged, children and families quite literally lived in villages, with brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or friends assisting in the daily care and maintenance of the youngest generation. Today, our villages look much different - we are more detached from our extended families, sometimes living hundreds or thousands of miles from our “clans.” But even those of us who live down the street from relatives understand the bond created with the family or village you choose, whether that’s one of friends, a church congregation, neighbors, mentors, or teachers.
More than 500 families are part of the extended WCS village, doing life together day in and day out. We celebrate with and console one another; build up and dust each other off; and treat all Spartans with respect and dignity regardless of age or size.
OUR SUPPORT TEAM
While some students matriculate through WCS with no interventions, others benefit greatly from additional support. This semester, about 15% of students in Early Childhood are engaged in speech-language and/or occupational therapies and enrichment courses at WCS. In the areas of speech and language, privately contracted speech language pathologists Dana Shanks and Lauren Davis Kirk ’09 work alongside families to identify, evaluate, diagnose, and treat any of a full range of communication disorders. “Spoken language is the foundation for reading and writing development. Children with communication disorders often perform below same-aged peers, have difficulty understanding and/or expressing language, misunderstand social cues, demonstrate poor judgement, struggle with reading, and have difficulty taking tests,” Dana reports. Communication is one of life’s most important skills, so early intervention is imperative.
In addition to the services offered by Dana and Lauren, pre-kindergarten teacher and occupational therapist Kristin Freed offers The Write Stuff and Wee Write Enrichment Academy classes at WCS as well as privately contracted occupational therapy services to WCS students. “I tend to have a very different perspective on everything a child does in the classroom. I analyze everything he or she is doing – or isn’t doing – and figure out ways to help them improve in every area,” Kristin says, particularly in the areas of fine motor skills, cognitive skills, social development, and self-care routines.
For Head of Early Childhood Becky O’Hearn, offering these interventions in house aligns perfectly with our greatest mission. “We believe childhood is sacred, that children are worthy of our attention, and that providing them with a supportive and nurturing childhood and educational environment is our greatest responsibility and treasure.”
THE VALUE OF EARLY INTERVENTION
Anisha Patel and Shameer Gill are one such family, thankful for WCS’ partnership and how it has changed their child’s life. Around six months of age, Anisha’s and Shameer’s daughter Ananya was hitting her head against walls, usually when overwhelmed or frustrated. By 12 and 18 months, she had missed speech milestones. Despite working with multiple speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists, an allergist, and a pediatrician, Ananya still only had command of fewer than 10 words as she neared the age of 3. “Honestly, I felt like a failure,” Anisha says. “I suspected something was wrong, but professionals were telling me a different story.”
Serendipitously, teachers with Ananya’s daycare program suggested a hearing test. Anisha and Shameer quickly learned Ananya had no hearing in one ear and only 30% in the other. Two weeks later, an ENT surgically inserted ear tubes, and Ananya started speech therapy with Dana Shanks. Soon after, Ananya started in WCS’ Great Beginnings program.
While Anisha and Shameer were always interested in Collegiate, working with Dana and having the option to continue therapy on campus made Ananya’s transition seamless. Within her first year, she was forming sentences. Kristin Freed began assisting from an occupational therapy perspective. Then, in her second year at WCS, Ananya had Terre Graham as her classroom teacher, who has a background in speech-language pathology and early childhood special education. As she worked more and more with this support team, “Ananya saw tremendous growth,” Anisha says.
“Speech therapy with Dana was life-changing. Occupational therapy with Kristin has improved Ananya’s coordination. I feel Ananya’s progress in preschool was largely because of Terre’s support. The team made it happen. I don’t think this could’ve been done single-handedly.”
That team, our village, is what helps set apart our Early Childhood program, and frankly our school, as we support one another in raising the next generation. Our educators and support staff do their jobs, and do them well, all in service of their students. In addition, they recognize that early childhood is a window of time when the brain is most receptive to language acquisition, memory development, and cognitive-process organization. If a child presents with an issue in receptive/expressive language, articulation, or social and cognitive communication or development, that window of time is negatively impacted. By offering a team approach under one roof, WCS can intervene earlier, and early intervention services can change a child’s developmental path and improve outcomes, not only for the child but for his or her family, and for success in school. What more could we ask for as partners in parenthood?
“You can’t put a value on these services being available on campus where therapists observe children and communicate with teachers with such frequency,” Shameer says. “There is no substitute for an early childhood education at WCS. You get here, and you know you’ve taken the right step. Ananya’s teachers and therapists have provided services, yes, but have also helped shape a happy and content child. That is priceless!”
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