The Immigrant and Refugee Center of Northern Colorado (IRC) provides a unique, free childcare program for enrolled families. Known as Little Learners, the service enables parents to take part in center classwork and counseling. At the same time, it strives to meet the specialized linguistic needs of immigrant children and focuses on school readiness in a culturally sensitive environment.
According to Joni Lopez, IRC’s Assistant Director, "The Little Learners Program provides the opportunity for a culturally sensitive school readiness and language development environment for the children while allowing the parents to continue the educational process of integration.
She continued, “Without the free Little Learners program, many parents, especially women, would not be able to attend these critical ESL/HSE/Citizenship classes which would affect the families integration process."
A mother and her three young children from a refugee camp in Myanmar were one of the childcare center’s earliest families. The children experienced separation anxiety and would not leave each other so their mother insisted on staying with them to offer comfort.
Over time, staff helped the children to transition into their designated activities and the mother felt confident enough to begin ESL classes. By program’s end, the family experienced significant growth in language skills and the children achieved a higher degree of school readiness.
Little Learners filled a unique need and by 2016 it served an average of 30-50 children a day, four days a week.There was a growing waitlist but a funding gap prevented them from expanding their care. In 2016 staff received a grant from the Community Foundation’s Littler Youth Fund to help grow the program.
With this funding, IRC increased childcare capacity by 75 percent, from one class to three, and expanded skilled staff. Wider class availability quickly resulted in a higher number of parents enrolling in ESL class work. Additionally, 86 percent of newly enrolled children showed a significant increase in their language development and in school readiness scores that translated to classroom success.
To learn more about the Immigrant and Refugee Center of NorthernColorado, visit them online at www.ircnoco.org.