By: Kelly Smith
Every week this month, we are spotlighting a local non-profit who makes a significant impact in the greater Billings community. Each of these organizations survives off the connection with its community partners, business supporters, individual donors and volunteers, in addition to grants and subsidies. The purpose for sharing these amazing organizations is to ignite a desire to get involved in some meaningful way in the community outside the walls of our homes.
Last week, we highlighted Tumbleweed and how it serves homeless teens in our community. This week, we’re taking a closer look at kids who need resources earlier in life, 3-5 year olds in low income families. Explorer’s Academy, more commonly known as Head Start, serves pre-school age kids and their families to develop school-readiness in Kindergarten and to increase the chances for lifelong success.
The importance of early childhood education is especially important for low-income kids whose home life may be varied and uncertain. Life skills, habits, health, and communication may not be taught in their home environment. By the time they get to Kindergarten, these kids may be well behind their peers who have attended pre-school or have more parental involvement during their developmental years. Programs such as Explorer’s Academy fill the gaps for low-income kids if they need it and serve to make sure they are on track for success from day one in Kindergarten.
Quality early childhood education has a $7 return to the local economy for every $1 invested. The importance of a child’s health, wellness, and happiness in their early years cannot be overstated.
The name change from Head Start grew out of a mission to expand services to all families who want their kids to develop in a structured early childhood development program. Funding for the schools is based on at least 90% of enrollment meeting low-income family guidelines to provide free tuition. The remaining 10% can be enrolled as over-income and are responsible for the tuition of their student(s).
Currently, Explorer’s Academy serves kids and their families in four locations in Yellowstone County: North Park, Terry Park, Lockwood, and Laurel. Bus transportation to the schools is provided for kids who live further than a mile from the schools.
Upon entering the front door of the N 19th Ave building, bright primary colors and friendly staff greet you and you’re aware this is a school environment right away. The laughter and songs of the kids as you walk through the halls, however, come from tiny little voices. The school is set up with a library and a playground with a garden for growing food, and classrooms much like you’d see at any school, but all are designed with little bodies in mind. Miniature chairs and tables are just the right size for the 3-5 year olds who occupy them.
We witnessed kids brushing their teeth after snack time, each with his/her own toothbrush to learn the importance of personal hygiene, a habit that may or may not be established at home. Kids learn basic life skills like manners, healthy eating, exercise, and conflict resolution.
A full library houses shelf after shelf of age-appropriate books for the kids to browse and read to dogs who come in with the R.E.A.D (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) Program.
Beyond the classroom
Explorer’s Academy recognizes that kids needs go way beyond the classroom. Where stability and structure for some of these kids may be uncertain, Explorere’s Academy offers services for the whole family! Parents play an important role as teachers in kids’ lives but sometimes they need support too. Each family works with a dedicated family advocate to establish and work toward goals that create structure and stability. This support might include parenting classes, employment training, adult education, and emergency help. These advocates work along side the parents to act as guides toward creating a healthy environment for the kids.
How you can help
If the mission of Explorer’s Academy touches your heart, you can be involved in a number of ways.
- Nutrition Volunteers
- Garden Volunteers
- Playground and Maintenance Volunteers
- Rock2Raise-biggest fundraising event of the year and the most fun concert in Billings!
- Board and Policy Council Members
- Be a community representative in our governing bodies and help make important decisions regarding policies, human resources, curriculum and budgets.
- Share Special Skills such as carpentry or sewing? Let us know and we can find a project for you.
- Sign up to volunteer
- classroom, family, and office supplies
- books for early readers
- Donate online here
Contact for more information
North Park Explorers Academy
615 North 19th St.
Billings, MT 59101