ALSD Builds CHAMPS Through Inclusive Child Developoment Program
ALSD Building CHAMPS Through Inclusive Early Child Development Program
Most working parents have been through the trouble of finding a reliable preschool or day care for their young children before they are old enough to start kindergarten.
While children entering kindergarten must be 5 by Sept. 1, the emergence of Preppy-K (or pre-kindergarten) programs has given 4-year-olds (birthdays between Sept. 2 and Dec. 1) an extra year of kindergarten to prepare for the school years that follow. It’s also helped make the transition easier for parents, allowing kids to get their first exposure to school at an earlier age.
Nonetheless, preschools are most often privately operated and independent from public school systems. The programs typically are not affiliated, meaning parents still have the challenge of finding dependable early education and child care.
That’s why the Alta Loma School District’s CHAMPS program is a game changer. An inclusive early childhood development program, CHAMPS – Creating Happy Achieving Motivated Prepared Students – prepares 3- and 4-year-old children for kindergarten.
Each of the five CHAMPS classes at Carnelian Elementary School accommodates up to 16 children. Eight spaces are reserved for children with an IEP – or individualized education program – who is eligible for special education classes. Up to eight more children from the community can be accommodated on a paid basis.
“We have children that need or require special education services in preschool, but we also feel like they need peer models, so that’s where the children from the community come in,” said Andria Leahy, school psychologist for ALSD’s CHAMPS program.
Initiated in 2009 at Banyan Elementary School, the program size varies from year to year based on the number of IEP students the district accommodates in any given year. All IEP students must live within Alta Loma School District boundaries, but the program also serves tuition-paying families with children from other communities.
“We call them inclusion classrooms,” said the program's speech-language pathologist, Alicia McManaman. "We have kids from the community in our classrooms and we have kids who require a preschool program to work on various skills they need to practice. The kids who attend our preschool have peer models from the community, which really helps the children learn new skills.”
Although CHAMPS started as a community preschool program without a special education component, it now bases growth on special education enrollment and maintains a balance between IEP children and children from the community, with a maximum of 16 students in each class. McManaman said there are currently openings for children from the community in both the morning and afternoon sessions.
Public school districts are required to oversee the education of children with special needs when they turn 3. Those children transition from a private, community or regional center and become the responsibility of a public school district. In Alta Loma, they are grouped with their peers with the goal of preparing all students for kindergarten when they’re 5.
“Our goal is to offer the professional support and services that they need now that they’re in preschool,” Leahy said. “All the research shows that early intervention is extremely important and beneficial to better outcomes later on. Our goal is for all of our students to go to be ready for kindergarten.”
The program is play-based and offers a language rich classroom taught by special education early childhood education credentialed teachers along with early childhood education certified Instructors and instructional assistants supporting each session.
“The advantage we have over the neighboring preschools is that our CHAMPS teachers are highly trained,” Leahy said. “They have expertise in working with children that have language delays, social delays, learning delays and they can build the program to address those needs. We have a different level of expertise with our teachers than you do with a typical community preschool. That’s where I feel that we stand apart.”
In addition to three adults in a class of 16 children, the program includes a comprehensive support team with an occupational therapist and a speech and language therapist. And while the extra attention is in place to accommodate the children with IEPs, classroom activities are geared for the entire class.
“Often times when you go into a classroom, you’ll see that all the students are engaged in the activities,” Leahy said.
“It’s really a foundational program for all of the kids,” she said. “It’s not designed to be a kindergarten. Our focus is on social skills, learning appropriate play and learning to be independent. We don’t want people to come in expecting that we’re going to be doing kindergarten work. That’s not the point. The point is to teach all of the children – those with special needs and those from the community -- to be independent and to be kindergarten-ready.
“We want them to have a positive school experience, and if you go into a classroom, you’ll see they love it here. In fact, most of our children return for a second year and we have a lot of children who had siblings who have gone through the program.”
CHAMPS previously operated at Banyan, Jasper and Victoria Groves, but seems to have found a home at Carnelian, where it has been based since 2017.
“I'm convinced the single-best improvement made at Carnelian was the relocation of the CHAMPS program last year,” said Carnelian Principal Phil Suttner. “The staff, students and families were immediately welcomed into the Cardinal family. They found a permanent home on our campus.”
Both Leahy and McManaman credit the support from Suttner and ALSD Director of Special Education Lori Thompson for helping the program find what they hope is a permanent home.
“The amount of support we’ve gotten from Mr. Suttner and Lori Thompson changed the program,” Leahy said. “We’ve always had support, but Mr. Suttner has made so many concessions for us – office and meeting spaces in addition to the classrooms. The whole Carnelian school site has welcomed us and the teachers feel very much a part of the Carnelian staff.”
Children entering the program must be 3 years old and fully toilet trained. A non-refundable $50 registration fee is required for enrollment. Classes run from Monday through Thursday at 7:45-10:45 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.-2:45 p.m. For more information or to register, contact Sara Budzinski at (909) 484-5151, ext. 102040.
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