Calming the Kids

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Collaborative pilot program connects behavior specialists with Quality Childcare Initiatives (QCI) partners


A United Way Suncoast pilot program is improving early learning, enhancing elementary education and strengthening the workforce.

How? Let the story of Amanda Perry, as chronicled in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, explain the impact.

Perry, a single mother, spent five months searching for a daycare for her son Cason before she landed him a spot. But she encountered issues when the center kept calling her at work to pick up Cason. He was biting and hitting, disrupting other students. Eventually, Amanda got called away from work so often she lost her job.

The story illustrates what the Herald-Tribune staff writer Saundra Amrhein described as a crisis within a crisis. Early learning centers, already facing a number of challenges, now report unprecedented displays of behavioral problems among preschool children – exacerbated by the pandemic and a host of economic pressures on families and parents.

In addition to emotional and violent outbursts, children are struggling to focus or relate to their peers. Disruptions have taken over instruction time, now consuming huge chunks of the day.

Not only do these behavioral problems threaten to impact parents’ jobs and worsen teacher burnout, experts say, they pose severe long-term risks to children’s development and learning potential – an issue that could hit elementary schools within a few years’ time.

United Way Suncoast identified the emerging issue and took steps to address it. Partnering with the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation and the Early Learning Coalitions of Manatee and Sarasota, we created a pilot program that placed four childhood mental health consultants in 12 preschools throughout both counties.

Spearheaded by Sarasota’s Florida Center for Early Childhood, officials modeled the approach on the latest research on child development out of Georgetown University.

Consultants work with with teachers, observing and building relationships with students while introducing research-backed approaches and games. Kids engage in new projects that help them learn to share or sit next to each other without hitting. An extra emphasis on tactile objects to occupy their hands – from squeeze balls to Play-Doh and crayons – aid with a host of struggles, including stress.

Teachers also benefit from the consultants, learning how to more readily identify behavior issues and manage their stress.

The Florida Center continues to review the results from the pilot project, but early indications reflect success.

And Amanda Perry? With guidance from the center, she found needed support for Cason. She’s in a new job and her son better manages his behavior.

“He loves school. He wants to go. He runs to put his school shoes on,” Amanda said. “He goes there and hugs his teachers every day.”

United Way Suncoast will continue to convene the community leaders to address early learning issues. It’s one of our best ways to elevate ALICE families. (Learn more about our Quality Childcare Initiative.)

[Stock image. Used for illustrative purposes only.]


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