Terrace grandparent lobbies for more StrongStart

A local grandfather is gathering signatures to support another StrongStart program in Terrace and Thornhill.

A local grandfather is once again advocating for early childhood education, gathering signatures to support another StrongStart program in Terrace and Thornhill.

Dave Jordan, who was instrumental in extending the early learning program from two days a week to five days a week last year at Thornhill Primary and Cassie Hall elementary, has  more than 90 parents supporting his most recent campaign.

“It is so successful that it is starting to fail,” he said, explaining parents are getting discouraged about coming to at least two because classes are too full.

StrongStart is an early learning program, paid for by the province and free for parents, which takes place in a school under the guidance of an early learning instructor. Child and parent or guardian must attend together.

Jordan said that the school district has acknowledged StrongStart is a valuable method that improves literacy, something the district has admitted needs to improve at the elementary level.

Jordan said this is one more reason to expand the program in Terrace.

Jordan has three grandsons and is a firm believer in the strength of this early education program in every elementary school.

“StrongStart is a doorway to learning,” says Jordan.

It’s now offered at three locations: Suwilaawks Community School, Cassie Hall Elementary and Thornhill Primary.

Jordan wants the program extended to the bench area of Terrace, and eventually every school.

Children are welcome from infancy to five years of age and both parent and child are taught social, physical, intellectual, creative and emotional skill sets that prepare a child for school.

Jordan started off by sending 65 signatures to Carolyn Hensen at the BC Ministry of Education and Early Learning Initiatives. Hensen referred him back to the local school district where he met with the director of early learning for the school district Agnes Casgrain, who agreed more StrongStarts would benefit children in the area.

“Yes we think we need more StrongStarts in our school district … we see them making a difference,” she said. “We’re kind of getting more than we bargained for, it’s really making a difference in families,” she said in reference to how much parents are getting from the program as well.

Casgrain said that when money for a  new StrongStart program becomes available, the province offers it to all school districts in B.C.

Last year, Casgrain said the province had money for 10 new StrongStarts and asked school districts across B.C. to put in bids as to why they should benefit.

This school district put in two bids, one for Hazelton and one for Kitwanga, both of which were denied.

Casgrain explained the programs are prioritized for areas where children are decided to be at the most risk of not being school-ready, and so in comparison to the rest of the school district, the Terrace bench area is not next on the list for a program.

Jeff Coroghly is the early learning instructor for the StrongStart program at Thornhill Primary school.

He believes that every school should have a Strongstart available.

“It doesn’t matter where they come from, if they are rich or poor they all need to learn,” he said while describing the program’s value.

Coroghly noted the benefits spread to parents as well as they learn how to foster their child’s learning and also develop valuable support networks with each other.

“It is so neat to see them (parents) engage with their child,” he said.

Coroghly runs a school-like atmosphere, with crafts, singing, stories and gym time — all centered around learning the basics from colours to sharing.

“I just get them school aware,” he said.

And  Coroghly does that in a variety of ways. For example, this year he will be hatching eggs into chicks in his classroom for students to hold and learn to be gentle with.

With 80 children registered, Coroghly has had to put a cap on his class in the past when it became too crowded.

“The quality of the program goes down when you have that many children,” he explained, noting that there are also safety concerns for babies and toddlers.

One benefit of a pre-school program is that children are familiar with the school by the time they enter kindergarten.

Jordan is encouraging any parents looking to help with the growth of this program to contact the Ministry of Education or to add their support to his petition on a fight he says he is not giving up. “StrongStart is a head start, I am not going to give up.”