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Program to assist parents in preparing children for kindergarten

Date: 9/26/2012

By Lori Szepelak

HOLYOKE — The Sisters of Providence, in collaboration with the Sisters of Providence Health System and the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation, recently launched an initiative, the "READY! for Kindergarten" program, which will assist parents and guardians of children from infancy to one year of age with educational tools to prepare their children for a lifetime of reading and learning.

The official launch of the program took place during a press conference Sept. 18 at the Providence Prenatal Center, 306 Race St., one of the sites to offer the initiative. The kindergarten program will also be available for patients of Mercy Care Forest Park, at 475 Sumner Ave., in Springfield. Both sites are entities of the Sisters of Providence Health System (SPHS). In future years, the program will be extended at both sites for children up to the age of four.

During an interview with Reminder Publications, Sister Kathleen Popko, SP, President, Sisters of Providence, noted that the culmination of collaborative efforts will also coincide with related initiatives launched by Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse and other agencies working to improve literacy of young children. Funding for this program will also be supported by the United Way of Pioneer Valley and the state Department of Early Education and Care.

"For 140 years, the Sisters of Providence have responded to the needs of women and children," Popko said. "In the 21st century, one of the critical determinants of success for a child relates to his/her capacity to read, a process that needs to begin soon after birth."

Since the arrival of the Sisters of Providence in 1873, they have cared for orphaned children that ultimately led to the establishment of Brightside for Families and Children, which continues today. Additionally, they developed homes for working girls in the early years, child day care centers, and throughout their history have provided maternity and other health services for women through health care facilities.

Popko explained that the Congregation is celebrating two milestone anniversaries and wanted to mark the occasions with important community initiatives.

"This year marks the 120th anniversary since our establishment, in 1892, as an independent Congregation in the Springfield Diocese, and 2013 signifies the 140th anniversary of the 1873 arrival of the first Sisters of Providence in Western Massachusetts and the 140 years of Providential caring their arrival set in motion," she said.

In honor of these anniversaries, the Sisters of Providence are working in collaboration with others to fund initiatives related to the Congregation's three priorities — women and children, the Earth, and those who are poor.

"I began exploring what were the greatest needs for women and children and with whom we could collaborate, and what type of program would make a difference," she added.

Popko learned of the Davis Foundation's program through a business colleague and knew it would be an effective initiative to introduce into the array of services for women and children offered at the SPHS prenatal centers in Holyoke and Springfield.

"While available in Springfield, this will be the first time it will be available in Holyoke," she said.

Researchers have indicated that children who enter kindergarten with poor early reading skills are usually poor readers in first grade and often remain poor readers all the way through high school, according to the Davis Foundation website.

Maritza Smidy, director of the Providence Prenatal Center, echoed those sentiments.

"Locally, we have a low graduation rate, with 50 percent of ninth grade students leaving by October," Smidy said. "We want to give our babies a head start with this program, and to help the moms to help their babies to be ready for kindergarten."

The kindergarten initiative for SPHS is an interactive, fun program for parents and guardians of children from infancy to one year of age, according to Sister Popko.

"Parents learn play techniques to use with their children to encourage learning," she said. "Families receive free materials at every 90-minute session (fall, winter and spring) that include toys, books and learning guides."

Food and childcare are available while the parents attend the sessions.

"This is an extraordinary opportunity for young parents to learn how to facilitate their child's readiness to read and learn," Smidy said. "Parents, too, will gain skills that will enhance their confidence in assisting their children and will rejoice in their children's success in learning to read."

Parents interested in registering for the program or for more information should call 739-3319.