Program offering early learning supports coming to Prince Albert

Prince Albert Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave fingerpaints with children at St. Catherine Catholic School. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

A pilot program that seeks to provide additional support for young children not reaching developmental milestones is expanding to Prince Albert.

On Thursday, the provincial government announced it would be expanding the Early Learning Intensive Support (ELIS) pilot program from the two original locations in Regina and Saskatoon to five additional communities, including Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Prince Albert, Swift Current and Yorkton.

The expansion of the program will provide 50 more children with intensive needs access to professional supports. Prince Albert is set to receive 28 of the new spots.

The pilot project’s expansion is being funded through the Canada-Saskatchewan Early Learning and Child Care Agreement and is expected to cost more than $2 million.

Currently, 108 families are enrolled in existing ELIS pilot programs. Once the expansion is complete, it will serve 170 families.

“The pilot project is to support children that are three or four-years-old who currently have intensive needs and are experiencing global delays or other areas of developmental delay and aren’t reaching those developmental milestones,” said Lisa Fleming, the content expert on the pilot project.

“These children and their families will be able to attend prekindergarten classrooms in the City of Prince Albert. While they’re in that classroom, they would be given support from additional educational assistants and as well as some professional services.”

That might include things like an occupational therapist or a speech and language pathologist or additional teaching coach.

“The idea of the model is to ensure that this is an inclusive environment for children to help prepare them to reach those developmental milestones,” Fleming said.

The idea, she said, is to encourage children to have more success when they enter into a kindergarten program.

“By helping those children work on areas like speech development or gross motor skills, they will be more ready when they come into kindergarten.”

Working with children in the early years supports them as they carry on into kindergarten and Grades one to three, Fleming continued.

“The more support we can offer when children are younger, the greater degree of success they’ll have when they go beyond their early years,” she said.

“I think one of the biggest successes would be that sense of belonging that our children have when they come into the school environment. It also has supported families feeling like they have a stronger connection to the school community. It created an opportunity for all of the children and teachers int hat classroom to have a greater understanding of children who need opportunities to be in an inclusive environment.”

Local families accessing the new program will be supported by both the Saskatchewan Rivers and Prince Albert Catholic School divisions.

“We are excited to see the Early Learning Intensive Supports pilot expand to include the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division,” Saskatchewan Rivers School Division Superintendent Tom Michaud said in a press release.

 “Our current practices in inclusive education will be enhanced with the additional resources that ELIS will allow us to access in order to provide high-quality educational programming to more Prekindergarten students requiring intensive supports.”