Archive for early learning – Page 2

The Cat in the Hat Tours North Florida for Early Literacy

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Contact: Joan Whitson, Early Learning Literacy Coordinator, 

Early Learning Coalition of North Florida, Inc. 


Phone: 904-342-2267



Kiwanis of St. Augustine members, Mary DeRose, Rita Scott, Joelyn Look (AKA “The Cat in the Hat”) and Mary Warren volunteering with the Early Learning Coalition of N. Florida to put on a Dr. Seuss program at Brandts Child Care in St. Augustine.

CLAY AND ST. JOHNS COUNTIES, Fla., March 20, 2020 – The Cat in the Hat is on the loose in North Florida during the month of March! In celebration of Dr. Suess’ birthday Thursday, March 12th, the Early Learning Coalition (ELC) held a drawing at its annual early educators conference in January for child care centers and preschools to receive a Dr. Suess program in their school. The program put on by ELC staff and volunteers consists of a story time with special guest “The Cat in the Hat” followed by fun activities relating to Dr. Seuss books. Each child in attendance received a FREE copy of the book “Ten Apples Up on Top” and the teachers received a resource bag filled with a set of eight Dr. Seuss books and other related teaching materials.

Congratulations to this year’s winners: O2b Kids and Brandts Child Care in St. Augustine, First Class Learning Center and Orange Park Kindergarten in Orange Park, and River Preschool in Fleming Island.  

“Promoting early literacy is a priority mission for us at the Early Learning Coalition” says Joan Whitson, ELCNF Literacy Outreach Manager. “Getting children excited about books and making sure that all children have them can make all the difference in their success in school all during their lives.” 

The ELC of North Florida provides child care assistance to families who meet certain income requirements and who are working or going back to school. This school readiness program is designed to increase a child’s chance of achieving future educational success. The ELC also administers and manages Florida’s FREE VPK (voluntary pre-kindergarten program for 4 year olds). Please visit for more information.


Early Learning Coalition of North Florida


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(Please visit: for additional information.)

During this time of uncertainty we have expanded our daily cleaning and sanitation efforts to ensure a safe environment. We continue to monitor and follow CDC guidelines, taking recommended preventive steps to protect yours and our well-being.  As you all may or may not know, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Department of Health (DOH) are responsible for the health and safety of children in childcare settings.

The Early Learning Coalition of North Florida  is responsible for the administrative oversight of school readiness and VPK funding, but we do not have the authority to make decisions regarding health and safety matters.  We are working in collaboration with the Office of Early Learning, the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Health to assist providers in getting updated information as it is received.  We are gathering information related to center closings and openings, so this information can be disseminated to parents as requested.

What we are doing with Episcopal Children’s Services (ECS) is:

*        Supporting early learning programs and helping them stay safely open to meet community needs, particularly for first responders and others like hospital workers who provide an essential service.
*        FDOE is working on additional guidance, particularly in terms of financial supports for programs that remain open and have low attendance and for programs that may have emergency closures.
*        This ELC and ECS provide an essential service and we are trying to remain open for as long as possible.  Even if we have to close we will continue to provide services to families.
*        Our Continuity of Operations Plans includes having our staff work from home, conduct family interviews over the telephone, and providing other supports online and by telephone.
*        We are taking all the recommended precautions in our buildings and with our staff.

Dawn E. Bell, CEO
Early Learning Coalition of North Florida

5/27 – Update on Child Care Centers:

DCF logo

Please see Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order 20-131 that lifts restrictions on child care programs and allows summer camps and youth programs to become operational effective as of May 22, 2020.

As a result of the Executive Order, please see the following updates on capacity and group sizes for all registered and licensed child care providers:

  1. Are there limitations on capacity? Only limitations on capacity as licensed. Providers are encouraged to consider recommendations for group sizes and social distancing measures issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  2. Are there limitations on group sizes? No; however, the CDC recommends that group sizes remain small and that there be no mixing of one group with another group.

For licensing ratios, the Office of Child Care Regulation or the local licensing agency, will continue to monitor and cite for any violations.

Taskforce Report to Open Florida

Executive Order 20-131


Early Learning Coalition of North Florida

First Lady Casey DeSantis Announces 8,000 Reading Scholarships Available to Help Students Enhance Skills

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For Immediate Release January 24, 2020

Contact: Governor’s Press Office (850) 717-9282

First Lady Casey DeSantis Announces 8,000 Reading Scholarships Available to Help Students Enhance Skills

First Lady also announces new pilot programs for Math, Reading

Tallahassee, Fla. – Today, First Lady Casey DeSantis urged Florida parents and schools to take advantage of more than 8,000 Reading Scholarships available through the Florida Department of Education to help public school students in grades 3-5 improve their reading skills. First Lady DeSantis said that more than 5,600 students and their parents have already taken advantage of these Reading Scholarships during the current school year. First Lady DeSantis also announced that ABCmouse will be launching a pilot program for their Mastering Math app and will soon announce the launch of their Mastering Reading app. Both pilots, which allow students to learn basic skills at their own pace, will be offered at no cost to Florida students in prekindergarten through second grade. “I am proud to support the Governor’s bold steps toward making education a priority,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis.

“Today is about bringing the public and private sectors together to ensure that Florida’s children have the support and resources they need to excel academically. Strong reading and learning skills are critical to student success in all aspects of life, and we are committed to continually pushing forward to create the best education experience for all Florida students.”

“A huge thank you to First Lady Casey DeSantis for championing this great opportunity for Florida families,” said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran. “We know that every student can learn. Currently according to NAEP, Florida is ranked number 6 in 4th grade reading nationwide. These Reading Scholarship accounts are going to enable us to help thousands of students who are struggling. I look forward to announcing the more than 8,000 scholarships available that will ensure we are giving students every opportunity they need to thrive.”

The Reading Scholarship is administered through the Department of Education by Step Up for Students. The eligible expenditures for reimbursement are:

 Instructional materials;

 Curriculum;

 Tuition and fees for part-time tutoring services.

The services shall be provided by a person who holds a valid teaching certificate pursuant to s. 1012.56, F.S.; a person who holds an adjunct teaching certificate pursuant to s. 1012.57; or a person who has demonstrated a mastery of subject area knowledge pursuant to s. 1012.56 (5);

 Fees for specialized summer education programs designed to improve reading or literacy skills; and

 Fees for after-school education programs designed to improve reading or literacy skills.

For more information about Reading Scholarship Accounts, visit



St. Augustine Record: Teacher of the Year

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Thanks to the St. Augustine Record for announcing our Preschool Teacher of the Year! Read more here:

ELC of North Florida Announces 2019 Preschool Teacher of the Year

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Contact: Joan Whitson, Early Learning Literacy Coordinator, 

Early Learning Coalition of North Florida, Inc. 


Phone: 904-342-2267



The Early Learning Coalition of North Florida’s representatives stand with 2019 Preschool Teacher of the Year winner Teresa Forbes at the Early Educators Conference Saturday, January 18, 2020. Left to Right: Aubrie Simpson, Fostering Connections St. Johns; Teresa Forbes, Brighton Day Academy, St. Augustine; Tony Boloutchi, Kaplan Early Learning Co., and Joan Whitson, Early Learning Coalition of North Florida.

Mascot Elsie and representatives from the Early Learning Coalition of North Florida surprises 2019 Preschool Teacher of the Year Teresa Forbes, Brighton Day Academy, St. Augustine (left of mascot) with prizes last December. She was officially honored at the Early Educators Conference Saturday January 18, 2020.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla., January 28, 2020 –  Whether exceptional teachers are born or made is not the question. What matters is that by the time they make it into the classroom, they are filled with the necessary passion, drive, education and genuine love of teaching children that students need to succeed.

This critical need for exceptional teachers is why the Early Learning Coalition of North Florida (ELC) is proud to present its winner of the fifth annual Preschool Teacher of the Year Award to Teresa Forbes. Forbes is a VPK teacher at Brighton Day Academy in St. Augustine, Fla. 

The six-countywide preschool teacher recognition is to acknowledge the creativity and hard work of those who teach children at the most fundamental time in their lives. 

“These are the kind of teachers that children will remember for the rest of their lives,” said Dawn Bell, ELC CEO. Bell is the leader of the 21-year-old nonprofit organization and the North Florida organization works with their partner, Episcopal Children’s Services to assure providers have coaches, funds and often, volunteers for their learning environments.  

Forbes was honored by a surprise prize patrol in December with balloons and flowers. She was also recognized at the ELC of North Florida’s Early Educators Conference held on January 18, 2020 at the Thrasher-Horne Center in Orange Park. Forbes was awarded a $500 cash prize from Kaplan Early Learning, Inc., the 2019 Teacher of the Year Sponsor as well as a plaque in her honor. 

With a strong nomination from her peers, Forbes stood out among educators. 

“When I hear ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ I think of Teresa,” said Donald Sutton, owner of Crowned Heart Preschools [Brighton Day Academy]. “Teresa not only teaches all of the basic core education curriculum, she does it in a fun, loving and nurturing environment. Her students leave her room prepared for elementary school and life well beyond. Her students learn a love of reading, which will help them throughout their academic career and last a lifetime.”

“In addition, Teresa strongly models awesome social skills. Her students learn about respecting others, and sharing and communicating their feelings verbally. Teresa is always organized and ever-flexible with a teachable moment when they arise. She’s the first to come in early, stay late or volunteer to help on a Saturday.”

“Teresa has told me many times that this is her calling and what God put her on the earth to do. I couldn’t agree more,” Sutton said. 

“Teaching is a special calling, and ELC is excited to be able to recognize preschool teachers who represent the best in the six counties we serve,” Bell said. “There’s no better job than guiding children down a path of success. Great teachers like Teresa have an incredible impact on our future.” 

For more information about the Early Learning Coalition of North Florida and its programs and services, please visit, or call 904-342-2267.


Early Learning Coalition of North Florida

PARENTS’ PAGES – January 2020

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The January issue of Parents’ Pages, a newsletter for families, is available on OEL’s website and below as an insert/attachment.


Topics in this issue:

  • Children’s Week Celebrate Literacy Week
  • Florida Celebrate Literacy in Your Home
  • Vision Screening for Children
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Download here:

Download (PDF, 14.16MB)


Documentation of Findings Letter: Tree House Academy

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This letter serves to document the findings of the Coalition Review Committee convened to review the decision to terminate Tree House Academy’s School Readiness and Voluntary Pre-K contracts as well as the revocation of Tree House Academy’s eligibility to offer these programs for five years from the original termination date of November 7, 2O19. Full Letter can be found here:

Download (PDF, 504KB)

Early Learning Coalition of North Florida




PARENTS’ PAGES – Winter 2019

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The December issue of Parents’ Pages, a newsletter for families, is available on OEL’s website and below as an insert/attachment. 

December is Family Safe Toys and Gifts Month

You can learn about toy safety and find which toys are best for infants, toddlers and
preschoolers in the December Parents’ Pages.

Read this issue to learn the importance of:
ꟷ Hand washing
ꟷ Immunizations
ꟷ The gift of time
ꟷ The 2020 Census
Learn more about scholarships that are available for young children and an organization that
builds beds for children that need a bed of their own. Find some fabulous resources to support
your preschooler’s learning at home.

Download here:

Download (PDF, 9.72MB)



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(This is the text version of our newsletter sent to our volunteers. Contact to learn more about our volunteer program.)

From Joan’s Desk

Dear Volunteers,
Tom Brokaw said, “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.” Every time ELC Volunteers read to children, or dress up as a character, or help with center activities, or load cars, or create make-and- take materials, or stuff bags with supplies for preschool teachers a difference is made in a child’s life.
Working with ELC volunteers is truly one of the biggest blessings of my life. I am inspired by the dedication and passion you have for reaching out to the children that this organization serves. The Outreach Program is exciting, informative, and creative because of you.
At the holiday season, my thoughts turn gratefully to you who make our programming possible. Thank you and best wishes to you and yours for a happy holiday.


ELC Early Literacy Coordinator

Reading Conference

The annual Reading Conference was held at the Marywood Retreat Center in St. Johns, September 25th. Forty-five Reading Pal volunteers and sixteen preschool teachers attended. The conference featured guest speakers Sandra Dunnavant, Lisa Taylor and Susan Murphy who shared ideas and activities. Attendees were able to participate in Interactive reading stations featuring informative reading related topics.

Sandi’s Corner

Dear Friends,
I will be retiring AGAIN in January. It’s time to read all those books that I’ve put on hold, enjoy mint juleps on the front porch, and discover ancestors that I didn’t know about.
I want to say a few words about my experience with the ELC organization and the Outreach Program.
I have loved working with the ELC staff and volunteers.
Dawn and her remarkable, dedicated, competent staff always provided me with the tools to make my job easier. Joan is one of the most enthusiastic, passionate colleagues that I have ever worked with. I enjoyed sharing ideas and performing programs with a cadre of caring volunteers.
Thank all of you for the kindness that you showed to me. I will always treasure my time with you.
PS…Don’t forget to teach those children Nursery Rhymes!


Reading Pal Spotlight

Lisa Taylor

Lisa Taylor has a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science from Texas Woman’s University. She is an experienced public youth services librarian. Presently she is a librarian at Florida State College in Jacksonville. ELC is delighted to have Lisa volunteering at Lighthouse Prep in St. Augustine. Not only do preschoolers get the benefit of her vast experience but they also have the pleasure of listening to her play the ukulele during story time.
Lisa shared her passion for reading at the ELC Reading Conference in September.

Reading Pals Needed

Are you enjoying being a Reading Pal? ELC is looking for more Pals. We need your help. Spread the word about ELC to your friends, neighbors, associates, church buddies, and women’s club. Help us recruit. This program makes a difference in the lives of children. Please help us enlist more volunteers.

Literacy Themed Programs

Throughout the Fall the ELC outreach team put on four different themed literacy programs. The program themes are as follows: Ocean, Dinosaur, Dance and Eric Carle’s World of Colors program. The programs consist of a very interactive story time which includes drama, music, stories and sometimes activities. Each child receives a FREE book relating to the theme and the teacher receives a resource bag with books and materials related to that theme.


Volunteer Hours

Please fill out and return the ELC volunteer hours worksheet each month. Sheets are available at all three lending library offices or they can be sent electronically.

Return to the offices or email or fax them to Joan. 904-342-2268 (fax) or


Why Time Sheets Are Valuable
According to the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), the value of volunteer services can be disclosed in a nonprofit’s financial statements for grant proposals, annual reports and other purposes. FASB states that non-monetary information, such as the number of donated hours or services provided by volunteers, can be helpful in assessing the success and long-term viability of a nonprofit. Using this hourly figure, an organization can put a dollar value on the community support that it receives in the form of volunteer work.

Read For The Record
ELC participated in the nationwide event Read for the Record, November 7th. Each year a book is picked and a challenge is issued for all participants to read this book on the same day to as many children as possible. The goal is to break the world record. 2,643,000 children listened to Thank You Omu and broke the world record. The ELC provided a FREE copy of this year’s book and a packet of activities was given to 75 child care providers in our six counties. 5,500 children in our area listened to the book.

Coming Events
Quarterly Volunteer Holiday Party
Tuesday, December 17th 12:30 -2:00 pm St John Main Library in St. Augustine located at 1960 Ponce De Leon Blvd. Meeting includes FREE lunch, gifts and fun. Come out and meet and visit with other ELC volunteers. RSVP to Joan for St. Augustine meeting at:

Wednesday January 15th 12:30 pm Work Day For Conference at the Clay Office
Volunteers are needed to help with organizing materials for the Conference

Saturday, January 18th 9:00-3:30 pm at the Thrasher Horne Center, Orange Park. ELC Early Educators Conference –
Volunteers are needed to help with registration that morning at 8:00 am. (If you volunteer you can stay and attend the conference for FREE.) RSVP to Joan

ELC Days

ELC Days at the Amazing Grace Crop Maze in Green Cove Springs were held October 9th and 16th. Each year ELC sponsors this fun field trip for preschools. Preschoolers went on a hay ride, walked through the crop maze, got up close with farm animals, jumped on the jump pad, and had an agricultural lesson. The ELC staff and volunteers provided an extra Fall craft. Each child was given a FREE copy of the book Spookley the Square Pumpkin and teachers received a bag of FALL related books for their classrooms. This year 450 children attended. Thanks to all the volunteers who helped.

Sponsorship by the Early Learning Coalition of North Florida and Florida’s Office of Early Learning
Early Learning Coalition of North Florida | 904-342-2267|
Administrative Office: 2450 Old Moultrie Road, Ste. 103, St. Augustine, FL 32086


Early Learning Coalition of North Florida

VROOM app brings parents and kids together to play

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We are excited about the VROOM app! It’s free for parents to find fun ways to connect with their kids. Join Vroom today. There are more than 1,000 different activities. It’s on Apple and Google Play. You can find it there or visit: or