Urbana Early Learning school launches preschool program

By Pauline Gaffney

Urbana Early Childhood School recently launched its monthly Junior League Bright Start program, which provides a learning opportunity to children in Champaign-Urbana at no cost. This program gives young children in the area the option to engage in free preschool education. 

The Bright Start Program was created after a similar program in Champaign-Urbana, Head Start, had an overflowing waiting list of students that wanted to enroll in the program. 

“The Bright Start Program will be filling the holes of those who were on the waiting list for Head Start,” said Denise Bates, president of the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana. 

Families are encouraged to take advantage of this new program, which will take place every month at the Urbana Early Childhood School.

“It really offers good things for them to practice at home on a regular basis, and it would be a missed opportunity if they did not come in and pick up those hints, tips and lessons on how to get their children ready for kindergarten,” Bates said. 

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Bates also shared that research shows that getting children involved in a pre-kindergarten program increases children’s readiness for future employment. She said it also keeps children out of the jail system. 

To ensure children in the Champaign-Urbana area have a chance at these advantages, Bates said she hopes to continue to expand the program, but that will depend on funding.

“The Junior League is still discussing where the program will go from its first pilot year, whether expanding out or up, but we do also see the need in the Champaign Unit 4 schools and also Champaign County Head Start, so we hope we are able to provide this opportunity,” said Sara Olson, chair of Junior League Bright Starts.

Cris Vowels, principal at Urbana Early Childhood School, said she hopes that the Bright Start program never has to make a child wait for his or her education. She said expansion also depends on whether state funding in the future.

“Five years from now I’m hoping that we have expanded and that we are able to reach those children in Urbana who no longer have a waiting list,” Vowels said.

Pauline can be reached at [email protected].