Expanded UM-Flint Preschool Program Impacts Flint Kids

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Launched in April at Holmes STEM Academy on the north side of Flint, the Great Expectations Early Childhood Program has nearly reached capacity while clearly impacting the lives of the eager children it serves.

Great Expectations was established through a partnership with Flint Community Schools and is operated by UM-Flint's Early Childhood Development Center as a program expansion to address the needs of Flint children affected by lead exposure and poverty. It provides a free preschool program that matches the ECDC's high-quality and holistic teaching methods.

Many of the children attending Great Expectations have never experienced a preschool classroom until entering the building, and the adults who are closest to them on a daily basis—their teachers and parents—have noticed the positive changes taking place in these kids.

"This experience has been amazing for them," said associate teacher Deondra Cross. "Some parents have commented that their child has an independence that they didn't have before. The kids are showing empathy for each other. They're building social skills because they spend time with more kids their age and have more opportunities to interact. Parents notice those changes in their kids."

Assistant teacher Heaven Standish and staff assist children with an art project.

Assistant teacher Heaven Standish, a UM-Flint K-12 art education student who grew up in downtown Flint, said she has always wanted to work with inner city kids and to use art as a way to enhance their personal growth and development. She helps them create colorful mobiles and mixed-media mural paintings, and shows them how to work with clay.

"I'm so happy to be able to present art to these students," Standish said. "I've seen them overcome challenges like speech delays and behavioral problems. One dad said his child loves to look at books and pictures now at home."

The children at Great Expectations sometimes explore campus and visit city sites with staff. In the school, they engage in various learning activities, eat nutritious meals and snacks, and occasionally spend time with special visitors, such as a registered therapy dog who recently visited with his owner, ECDC Director Della Becker-Cornell.

ECDC Director Della Becker-Cornell reads a story to the children at Great Expectations.

Bancroft is a two-year-old Golden Retriever that Becker-Cornell also shares weekly with residents of a local long-term care facility. During her visit to Holmes, she read a book about dogs to each group of kids, then let Bancroft show off a few tricks before allowing the kids to pet him and talk to him.

"Bancroft has a natural disposition for this type of work," she said. "I knew my kids would need him."

Assistant teacher Angela Sintery works at Great Expectations and sees how much the children have changed and learned during the past few months. She characterized Great Expectations as a hidden gem in the community. "These children are having the best times of their lives," Sintery said. "They need us."

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