GRCC expanding early childhood ‘play and learn’ programs through countywide Ready by Five millage funding

Jan. 27, 2020 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. Grand Rapids Community College will expand early childhood “play and learn” groups aimed at boosting school readiness through $671,553 from Kent County’s Ready by Five Early Childhood millage.

GRCC is among 16 community groups awarded from $7.6 million generated by the millage. The funding, which support 23 programs, is coordinated by First Steps Kent.

Selected programs provide prenatal support, parenting education, comprehensive health services, or early learning opportunities, focusing on families with the greatest needs and ensuring that young children in all areas of Kent County have access to quality services.

“Serving the region’s youngest learners and their families is one of the ways GRCC is relevant and responsive to the people we serve,” GRCC President Bill Pink said.

“Our Phyllis Fratzke Early Childhood Learning Laboratory is a tremendous resource for the community. Director JaneAnn Benson and her team are leaders in this field, delivering innovative training for our students while helping young children during a vitally important time in their development.”

The Fratzke Early Childhood Laboratory operates play and learn groups to help parents and other caregivers learn skills and strategies to prepare children to succeed in school. Services are currently provided at 11 sites in the Grand Rapids: eight Grand Rapids Public Schools sites, the Grand Rapids Public Library, Madison Square Church, and at GRCC.

GRCC anticipates adding four locations, providing sites in all four county quadrants and ensuring outreach to areas with high populations of vulnerable families. The grants will also provide the opportunity to offer more year-round sessions to extend caregiver learning beyond the school year.

“We are honored to do this important work and are excited to expand the work beyond Grand Rapids as we know all children/families have need for quality early learning programming,” Benson said. “It is a very exciting opportunity!”

GRCC’s early childhood program has been serving children and families since 1974. It now serves 100 families in seven classrooms, providing care and early education to children ages 6 weeks to 6 years old. 

Kent County voters approved the Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage in 2018. The six-year millage generates approximately $5.7 million each year. Other organizations awarded play and learn grants are Camp Fire West Michigan 4C, Comprehensive Therapy Center, Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative, and Cherry Health. Grants also were awarded to programs providing home visits, health development, and eliminating environmental home health risks.

GRCC was awarded more than its initial request “due to the strength of the proposal and the recommendation of the Resident Proposal Review Board that GRCC explore the feasibility of expanding programming beyond the city of Grand Rapids,” Annemarie T. Valdez, First Steps Kent president and CEO, wrote in a letter to Pink.

“The programs and proposals that were put forth by Kent County agencies showed innovation and excitement around early childhood work and the importance of improving outcomes for our youngest children and their families,” Valdez said. “We are grateful for the support of Kent County residents. This is a vital investment in young children across our community and we are now closer to making sure children are ready for the first day of kindergarten.”

Grand Rapids Community College has been offering educational opportunities in West Michigan for more than 100 years. Established in 1914, the college offers degree courses, certification and training programs, and workshops and personal enrichment classes. Offerings are held on GRCC’s downtown Grand Rapids campus, and at several locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties, as well as through distance learning.


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