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Bright Spot: Early Childhood Navigators Help Connect Young Children to Preschool Options

May 28, 2019

Northfield Early Childhood Navigators – Kayla Wolff and Liliana Ramos

Esther, her husband, and their four children moved to Northfield in September. The three oldest children go to school during the day; still at home was Ben-Felix, about to turn 3.

“My husband works nights, so I work mornings,” Esther explains. “I go in to work; he cares for Ben. He can’t sleep well. To work nights, you need better sleep.”

Esther didn’t know what preschool programs were available in town, how old Ben would have to be to go, or if their family could afford it. She speaks French at home, so piles of application paperwork are extra-daunting.

That’s when a Community Action Center staff member introduced her to Kayla Wolff. As one of Northfield’s two Early Childhood Navigators, Kayla works with families of young children to overcome obstacles that prevent kindergarten readiness. Both bilingual English-Spanish Navigators assist with preschool registration and scholarships, plus connect families to early childhood screening, childcare applications, financial assistance, and other community resources.

Kayla came to visit Esther and Ben to learn more about their situation and talk about preschool options, bringing along some learning activities for Ben to do at home.

Together, they were able to enroll Ben in Head Start this January. Does he like it?

“You can see for yourself,” Esther laughs, as Ben runs and plays with other children.

Esther noted his social skills, in particular, are improving. “He’s really opened. He was so sad, to himself.” On weekend visits to the Northfield Public Library, Ben would get scared and reluctant to interact with the other children. Now he’s making friends, playing with cars, and identifying blue and green colors.

Having an Early Childhood Navigator to help them navigate the preschool options in their new community has made a difference for their family, Esther says.

“It’s better for [my husband], that he can sleep. And me, at work — my heart, my thinking, is calmed down, because I know somebody is taking care of [Ben]. Here, there are friends, there is learning.”

In the first 10 months of this Navigator pilot program (a collaboration among Northfield Promise partners), the Early Childhood Navigators have helped 28 children find, afford and enroll in Northfield preschool programs. Funding for the pilot is provided by the StriveTogether Accelerator Fund, the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, the Minnesota Department of Education (through a state appropriation to Northfield Promise), and Northfield Hospital + Clinics.

To contact the Early Childhood Navigators:

Kayla Wolff (507) 321-0621
Liliana Trinidad Ramos (507) 321-3734

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