Lewis Cass ISD programs receive recognition

DOWAGIAC — The Lewis Cass Intermediate School District had much to celebrate this week.

Tuesday, Lewis Cass ISD Director or Early Childhood Education Chris Whitmire presented framed certificates of state and national recognition to the representatives of its Parents as Teachers program and its Great Start Readiness Program.

First, the ISD’s Parents as Teachers program received national recognition as a Blue Ribbon Affiliate from the Parents as Teachers National Center, Inc.

According to Whitmire, being named a Blue Ribbon Affiliate affirms that Lewis Cass ISD Parents as Teachers Program is a high-quality member of the home visiting field, implementing the evidence-based Parents as Teachers model with fidelity. The program includes home visits, group connections, child screening and connections to community resources. It equips parents with knowledge and resources to prepare their children for a stronger start in life and greater success in school.

“This is a national recognition that all of the different work we do in home-visiting families in Cass County is using an evidence-based model and it’s at the highest quality measured,” Whitmire said. “We take the time to really get to know our families. All of our structures and framework are strong and complete. That’s what we are focused on — helping children in Cass County reach their fullest potential.”

Second, Dowagiac’s Justus Gage Elementary GSRP program received a five-star rating from the Michigan Department of Education. The GSRP 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 specific needs. The curriculum is approved and reviewed by the state.

“This is fabulous, and we are very proud of the program,” said Justus Gage Principal Bryan Henry. “We are very proud of our teachers and aides.”

Now that Justus Gage has received a five-star rating, Whitmire hopes to see the other eight GSRP partners in Cass County also receive the distinction.

“We have nine classrooms, and this is the first receive that five-star rating,” she said. “We are very proud of our staff and our community partners who work so hard on these programs.”

In addition to celebrating the recognition the Justus Gage GSRP and the Parents as Teachers program received, Lewis Cass ISD was also celebrating the fact that it received a Strong Beginnings grant to launch a pilot program in the county.

Strong Beginnings is an early childhood education pilot program offered to 3-year-old children who experience various learning barriers in Cass County. Lewis Cass ISD’s Department of Early Childhood Education was awarded the grant as only one of four intermediate school districts in Michigan in November. The program is modeled on Michigan’s GSRP, with modifications made to ensure suitability for 3-year-old children.

There will be two cohorts launched for Strong Beginnings classrooms for 2021 in Cass County. Cohort one will begin in January 2021 at Marcellus Elementary in Marcellus and Patrick Hamilton Elementary in Dowagiac, with 14 children at each school. In September 2021, cohort two will expand to three other schools in the county currently supporting a GSRP or GSRP-HS classroom. Whitmire said children who enroll in Strong Beginnings are guaranteed entry as 4-year-olds in the GSRP, ensuring two years of high-quality preschool at no cost to qualifying families.

“We are excited to be able to sponsor children starting in January at no cost for high-quality early childhood education,” Whitmire said. “We are looking for families who are interested in this, and all they have to do is go to greatstartcass.org, and they will be able to apply. If they are looking for something, we are looking for them. We are excited and want to bring them into the program.”

After a difficult year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Whitmire said she was glad to have so much good news to celebrate.

“It’s such a tumultuous time in history. We feel very blessed to have such wonderful partners, like our school districts — Dowagiac, Marcellus, Edwardsburg and Cassopolis — and our community partners to support us to excel,” she said.  “Somehow, we have been able to provide extremely high-quality programming for the families in our area. We are extremely proud that even though there have a lot of challenges this year, challenges with engaging families, challenges with moving to remote learning, we’ve been able to provide high-quality services to our families and try to make a difference in children’s lives.”

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