Guest column: But did you know this about Guadalupe Center?

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By Eileen Connolly-Keesler

Naples

President/CEO

Community Foundation of Collier County

Most of our local residents are well aware of the poverty crisis in Immokalee. And many people probably have heard about the Guadalupe Center. But did you know their Early Childhood Education program is integral to the success of our community?

It has been proven that high-quality early education is one of the most cost-effective investments that can be made to improve the well-being of society. By partnering with the Guadalupe Center we are making a difference in the sustainability of Collier County.

For the children of Immokalee, a life of poverty often seems unavoidable and access to affordable early education is often beyond their reach.

Since its inception in 1996, The Guadalupe Center’s Early Childhood Education program has made it its mission to assist Immokalee’s youngest residents. The tuition-free program, offered to 275 Hispanic children each year, has grown into a highly sophisticated, data driven, educational platform, conducted in a safe and nurturing environment. Currently 350 children remain on a waiting list.

The Community Foundation of Collier County awarded $5,000 from our Community Impact Fund to the Guadalupe Center to support annual tuition costs for children enrolled in their Early Childhood Program during our recent Education & Workforce Training grant cycle.

Students’ progress is closely monitored via assessments and screenings that are completed during the year. Last year, the Center’s evaluative tools demonstrated strong results with 96 percent or more of the children scoring on level or above in all of their progress indicators.

The Center’s success can be attributed to its teaching staff, small group model, and strategies designed to accommodate children’s individual styles of learning. All areas of a child’s development are provided for including physical, emotional, linguistic, aesthetic, and cognitive. Children partake in hands-on, interactive learning activities that build a strong academic foundation. A wide variety of materials are used in instruction, including SMART Board technology, which provides integral technological skills at a very early age.

Additionally, through partnerships with local organizations, the Guadalupe Center is able to introduce the children to visual, musical, and performance art allowing them to explore and expand upon their creative skills.

“We are extremely grateful to the Community Foundation for the support that they have provided to our early childhood education program throughout the years. It has truly enabled us to provide the programs and services that allow our children to enter kindergarten with a strong foundation and to be successful in school,” says Guadalupe Center President,Barbara Oppenheim.

James J. Heckman, Ph.D., Henry Schultz Distinguished Service professor of economics from the University of Chicago and a Nobel Laureate, argues that by investing in the very young we avoid the need for more costly interventions later in life.

He writes in his paper, The Case for Investing in Disadvantaged Young Children, “Early childhood education has the immediate benefits of preparing disadvantaged children cognitively and socio-emotionally for life and, perhaps more importantly, it strengthens our economy and works to promote schooling, reduce crime, foster workforce productivity, and reduce teen pregnancy”.

Immokalee is a migrant farming community and home to hundreds of hospitality industry employees that serve Collier County. According to the 2010 census, the median household income of $22,378 is 50 percent less than the median income for Golden Gate and roughly a third of what it is for Collier County as a whole.

According to a child well-being study commissioned by NCEF, the Immokalee student population is considered 97 percent economically destitute; 29 percent limited English proficiency; and 97 percent minority (Hispanic-Latino, predominantly).

The majority (76 percent) are from homes in which English is not spoken, conversation in any language is minimal, and adult family members have had little formal education. While struggling with language barriers and the effects of poverty, these children, in their early years, often lack the positive serve-and-return interactions needed for healthy development.

With your help, we can continue to support accessible and affordable early education programs. They are the foundation for growing and sustainable communities.

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