State-funded preschool program to be continued at Northside Child Development Center

NILES — A state-funded preschool for at-risk children will find itself with new leadership this fall.

The Niles Community Schools and YMCA of Greater Michiana are partnering up to run the state funded Great Start Readiness Program for the 2020-2021 school year.

According to Niles Community Schools officials, families who have taken part in the program in the past will not see a noticeable difference from previous years.

“Niles Community Schools reached out at the end of May or beginning of June and asked if we would be interested in partnering,” said Zechariah Hoyt, executive director of youth programs at the YMCA of Greater Michiana. “We looked at it, considered it, and we decided to move forward with that.”

Hoyt said the YMCA is taking on the responsibility of overseeing the program for the Berrien RESA, which had previously been operating it. Several members of the team will stay with the program as it continues under the YMCA.

The Great Start Readiness Program is a state-funded preschool program. It works to provide a quality preschool experience for at-risk 4-year-old children, in which families must qualify based on certain needs. The curriculum is approved and reviewed by the state. The program aims to serve 88 children.

Dan Applegate, superintendent of Niles Community Schools, said the district was expecting school budget cuts for the 2020–2021 school year. The GSRP preschool is a part of finding a solution.

“We reached out to our community partners for support and were fortunate to align with the YMCA,” Applegate said. “Together, we pooled our resources to provide the community with the exceptional preschool programming and affordable daycare that they have come to expect.”

The YMCA partnering with NCS for the GSRP means the two entities will continue to share resources at Northside Childhood Development Center. Before taking on the executive director of youth programs at the YMCA of Greater Michiana, Hoyt led early childhood programming at Northside.

As the program returns in the fall, Hoyt said the YMCA and NCS are taking guidance from the GSRP, the state, and from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

“Much like schools are going through right now, and any entity that is getting ready to bring kids back, [we are] trying to figure out what that looks like,” Hoyt said. “There’s not a lot that has been solidified, so the challenge is how do we continue to prepare to get ready to do it.”

Over the summer, the YMCA of Greater Michiana provided childcare to essential workers and through the Summer My Way program. As mandates and guidelines have adapted through the COVID-19 pandemic, Hoyt said the program directors are working to stay current on what is needed to safely operate.

“We have been fortunate enough to be serving kids through this time, which is a blessing,” Hoyt said. “What we’ve learned and what we want to continue do and prepare for.”

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