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New Family Center Will Work to Give Young Kids a Positive Start

Oct. 15, 2006 — Early-childhood development now has a place on St. Thomas — literally.
"When preschoolers enter kindergarten with good social-developmental skills, their ability to learn influences their positive progress throughout school," said Judith Richardson, Kids Count director for the Community Foundation of the V.I. (CFVI). "Schools can then raise their standards and deliver higher-quality education."
To help start kids off right, on Saturday CFVI opened the Family Connection Center in Vitraco Park Mall.
"The center is a professional place, where child-care professionals and parents can walk in the door and feel valued," said Beth Marshall, the new center's director. "It's also about building on local expertise and collaborating with teachers in the community to open up the dialogue about the importance of early-childhood development in the territory."
Marshall and CFVI representatives officially launched the center to cheers and congratulations from several community members, teachers and parents. Many children were also attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, taking the opportunity to spend several hours playing in the center's toy and book library.
The center, in the works for three years, represents the beginning of early-childhood development in the territory, according to Ricardo Charaf, chair of CFVI's board.
"And I hope there will be a time in the future when we can get together and celebrate the difference we were able to make for the children and families of the U.S. Virgin Islands," he said, nothing that CFVI's board started planning the center in 2003 "after years of careful research," both locally and abroad.
Studies show that promoting early-childhood development and providing positive learning experiences for young children improves a child's ability to succeed in school, according to information collected by CFVI.
Local child-care providers have few professional opportunities, Richardson said, a problem the Family Connection Center aims to change by offering several programs and services for both providers and parents, including training, quality-enhancement grants and the availability of technical assistance and resources to improve childcare quality.
Parents may also access information and resources about child development, school readiness and tips on how to choose quality child care.
The territory currently has no child-care centers accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). To help them achieve that goal, the Family Connection Center's professional-development section will provide resources, technical assistance and support to a set number of providers.
The center will also help individuals obtain child development associate (CDA) credentials, which show that a provider can meet the specific needs of children and work with parents and other adults to develop a child's "physical, social, emotional and intellectual growth."
Individuals frequenting the center also have the ability to create their own learning tools.
"We have special equipment and blank CDs which parents and teachers can use to record themselves reading something," Marshall said. "So they can give the kids a paperback book and a tape of something in their own voice, which I think is pretty neat."
Marshall, who taught in the Early Learning Center at Antilles School for 29 years, said that parents and teachers can also custom make their own "kits," which teach children in such key areas as literacy, math and science.
"We have big plastic bags, books, blocks, toys — you name it, we've got it," she said, holding up a container labeled "Senses."
The container held a book about the five senses, along with items for children to touch, see, hear, taste and smell. "It's a handy way for teaching kids about various subjects," she said. "And it's really easy to make your own."
It will take about $175,000 annually to operate the Family Connection Center, according to information released by CFVI. Financing will come from the Family Connection Endowment Fund, federal grant funds, fund-raising initiatives, legislative mandates, user fees and other incentives created to generate revenues.
A number of community members have already pledged their support, including:
Jump donors (who have pledged $50,000 a year for three years):
Betty Saks and Bart Kavanaugh
Josefina and Ricardo Charaf
Driehaus Capital USVI LLC
J. E. Epstein VI Foundation
Henry U. Wheatley
Trudie & Neil Prior
Two Skips and a Hop donor (who have pledged $25,000 a year for three years):
A.H. Riise and the Cassinelli family
Skip donors (who have pledged $10,000 a year for three years):
Kim Holdsworth and Bob Schmidt
Ursula and Bill Graham
Penny and Hank Feuerzeig
Hop donors (who have pledged $5,000 a year for three years):
Joe Papa and Marylee Pratnicki
Alexander A. Farrelly Milestone Fund
Fred and Sharon Hupprich
TOPA Properties, Ltd.
First Bank of the Virgin Islands
B&W Realty
Dee and Richard Brown
Buddy donors (one-time contributions of $1,000 or more):
Odile deLyrot
Annie and Neil Weiss
Marjorie R. Roberts
Robert W. O'Connor
Suzanne and Pete Mabe
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