SHERIDAN — As long as she can remember, Jeriann Jacobson loved working with kids. From her time as an elementary school teacher in Nebraska to working for the Center for a Vital Community in Sheridan, she eagerly helped children grow. Fitting, then, that Jacobson now holds the position of early childhood liaison at Sheridan College.
The early childhood liaison program began this year and is a collaborative effort between the college, Sheridan County School District 2 and community members to improve kindergarten readiness for students. It falls under the Next Level umbrella, the name for several different programs to help increase SCSD2 high school graduation rates.
Whitney Benefits funded the three-year pilot program. The grant from Whitney provides money for Jacobson’s position and other supplemental resources needed.
SCSD2 assistant superintendent Scott Stults borrowed the idea from a very similar program at Thermopolis schools, which Stults first examined in 2012.
“Every parent says I want to do what’s best for my kid,” Stults said. “Yet we also know, as parents, there’s not a manual. There’s not a guide.”
Jacobson began her position in July and spends most of her time developing initiatives and reaching out to the 25 licensed childcare providers in the area to share ideas. Most childcare providers are excited to discuss ideas or come up with solutions to problems together, Jacobson said. Some providers will ask Jacobson for help in specific areas, like math or letters.
Jacobson also works with education students at the college on different projects. For example, they created checkout bags for parents with kids in childcare. The bags contain packets of information and learning exercises for kids to complete at home.
In addition to checkout bags, Jacobson is working on a “kindlers” program for kids not yet in school to play together. The group will begin in late January at the Sheridan YMCA and will take place every Tuesday and Wednesday morning.
These could potentially backfire, with parents looking at some of these ideas as examples of micromanaging. Thus far, though, Jacobson said most parents will at least try new strategies.
Because of her previous jobs, Jacobson didn’t have to go through specific training for the position. The first five months have gone about how she expected but also brought plenty of roadblocks.
Challenges include the amount of time and planning to come up with successful programs, and also proving a need for the type of services offered. Another difficulty is reaching parents who take care of children at home, but Jacobson hopes to meet more of them through the kindlers group and word of mouth.
Jacobson said the services are important because children have the potential to learn better if they receive rich, varied experiences from a young age. Parents can do that in simple ways, like talking to their young children about items in their living room or on shelves at a grocery store.
For all of the positives potentially resulting from the early childhood liaison, proven success must happen for the program to continue. The main measure of success will use comparative data from a pre-kindergarten screening that all SCSD2 students go through in April, several months before starting class.
At the screening sessions, parents look on as their four- and five-year-old children test their knowledge of shapes, colors, numbers and letters. Pre-screening results from 2017 will be compared to the 2018 results and the subsequent two years.
Stults said the program also aims to improve common deficiencies among kindergartners beginning school, like understanding the difference between uppercase and lowercase letters. Measurement of success will also include anecdotal feedback from childcare providers and kindergarten teachers.
Jacobson doesn’t have direct coworkers but has plenty of collaborators. She formally meets with Stults, SCSD2 assistant superintendent Mitch Craft and a Whitney representative once per month and usually talks with Stults and Craft several times each month.
Only eight people in Wyoming work as early childhood liaisons. Jacobson said they will potentially meet a few times per year and possibly have a conference next spring.
Jacobson also picked an advisory committee that will meet three or four times per year. The nine current members include a local principal, kindergarten teacher, parent liaison and college education faculty member. Jacobson hopes to add two more spots with a preschool and daycare provider.
She also reports to Sarah Sinclair, chair of the social science, humanities, english and education department at the college. Sinclair helps Jacobson navigate the college portion of the program. They usually talk a couple times per week and meet in person a few times each month.
Sinclair said Jacobson has a unique ability to bring different people and groups together, a seemingly ideal trait for the new effort.
“She’s a natural diplomat,” Sinclair said.