FREE Digital Learning Resource for Kids 0-8

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Episcopal Children’s Services and ELC of North Florida is pleased to offer you a free digital learning resource for your children ages 0-8 years old. The books, games and activities on Footsteps2Brilliance will keep your children engaged and actively learning while they are at home during school closures.

Please follow these steps to activate your complimentary license for your family.

• Footsteps2Brilliance can be used on any device you have including your smartphone, tablet or computer

• Go to on any device/browser

• Go to the app store for your mobile device and download the Footsteps2Brilliance app

• When asked to register, just go through the steps on the screen, available in English and Spanish

• You will receive an email with your user name and instructions to set a password The program resources will need to be downloaded while still on WIFI. If space is limited on the device, a single level can be loaded at a time and later removed to free up space.

All data about your child’s activities will still be available. Once downloaded all the resources can be used without WIFI or cell service. Kids can continue to learn anytime! In addition, you can go to to get monthly reading and writing game boards to do with your child. #ELCsTakeAction


Early Learning Coalition of North Florida

[NEWS RELEASE] Florida Governor Deems Child Care as an Essential Business

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State of Child Care Services in North Florida During the Coronavirus

Ms. Christina educates at Brighton Day Academy preschool in St. Augustine on Thursday, April 3, 2020, one of the child care centers in North Florida willing to be open to serve essential workers during the coronavirus. #ELCsTakeAction #Covid19UnsungHeroes

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla., April 4, 2020 – Despite stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus crisis, essential personnel with children still have a need for high-quality and accessible child care. To aid workers, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis has deemed child care an essential business. Child care centers are currently operating at only half-capacity in North Florida counties; however, parents can be matched for immediate openings at willing centers through a centralized resource hotline.


The Early Learning Coalition of North Florida (ELC) gives support to parents of children ages birth to five years by managing the Child Care Resource and Referral Network (CCRR), Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) and School Readiness programs in the counties of St. Johns, Clay, Nassau, Putnam, Baker and Bradford. Parents can call ELC’s Child Care Resource and Referral Network to be matched to child care services at 1-800-238-3463 ext. 7702. 


Because of the support of early childhood educators willing to ensure that both the safety of their children and the needs of the community are met, those in medicine, first responders and grocery store workers are able to report to duty during this crisis. It may also take the burden of child care off aging grandparents, who may be at higher risk for the coronavirus.


ELC, along with the Office for Early Learning in Florida, are suggesting that providers do what they can to stay open for those who need care. Help is available for them as well as parents. 


Continuing the child care system enables parents to work and earn money to support their families, a critical component of economic stability and growth, as well as helping children to meet developmental milestones, according to ELC.


What Kind of Child Care Help Is Available for Parents?


The Child Care Resource and Referral Network (CCRR) has been in place to help families find care that is easily accessible, educational, safe and affordable. Additionally, ELC’s managed School Readiness programs allow families who meet certain income requirements to enroll their children in daycare. Parents pay a co-payment based on a sliding fee scale and developmental screenings are conducted by ELC. 


 “We work with our primary service provider, Episcopal Children’s Services, to offer resources for parents who need to find quality and affordable child care through our hotlines,” said CEO of ELC North Florida Dawn Bell. “We are monitoring things very closely and will continue to offer our services as is our mission to help children and families.” 


Parents can call the Child Care Resource and Referral Network at 1-800-238-3463 ext. 7702 or email 


More information can be found on the homepage of The Early Learning Coalition of North Florida’s website


Pertinent Information Regarding Child Care in North Florida During COVID-19


What Centers are Now Open? 


Episcopal Children’s Services (ECS) keeps a current list of all centers, their capacity, and the ability to take in new families through actively surveying centers. According to ECS’ Chief of Programs and Administration Teresa Matheny, when parents call, they will be able to find placement within counties for services. 


“Our child care centers have really embraced our request to be available for parents,” said Matheny.


“Some of the centers cannot operate at full capacity due to CDC guidelines. Centers are limiting their ratio of providers to children per room, and at the same time, many have parents now staying at home so spots are opening up,” said Matheny. “Our centers are following protocols for safety to minimize risks as much as possible. I would strongly recommend parents call us.” 


First responders have been able to find child care so far in ELC North Florida’s counties, but there are some shortages in counties like Bradford, according to Matheny. Also, some centers like Brighton Day Academy preschool would be willing to keep their day care open for night-shift workers 24/7 if needed. 


““We are taking every precaution for safety during these times.  No parents are allowed past the lobby and we take each child and staff member’s temperature before they are allowed back into the classroom area,” said Tracy Roberts,  Director at Brighton Day Academy in St. Augustine. “We are open to business and still enrolling. We have fewer children enrolled right now but are working hard to keep all of our staff on the payroll.  Our priority is and has always been to the safety and well being of the children in our care.”


What Are Child Care Centers Doing Now to Be Safe?


Providers are taking guidance from the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to determine how to operate. Guidelines from FDOH can be found here:


They also received the following guidelines to adhere to from the Department of Children and Families, Office of Child Care Regulation. 


These include: 

  • Require pickup and drop-off in the lobby/entry way of the operation, unless it’s determined there is a legitimate need for the parent to enter an operation. For example, meet the parent at the pickup area and escort the child to the parent.
  • Prohibit any person except the following from accessing an operation: operation staff; persons with legal authority to enter, including law enforcement officers, Child Care Licensing staff, and Department of Children and Families protective services staff; professionals providing services to children; children enrolled at the operation; and parents or legal guardians who have children enrolled and present at the operation.
  • Limiting students and employees to no more than 10 people in a single occupied space, therefore breaking students into groups as necessary, maintaining social distancing best practices for proper hygiene.
  • Ensuring students get individual meals and snacks; not family style. 
  • Any person that is allowed to enter must be screened for fever, cough, respiratory symptoms and he/she should not have traveled outside the country in 14 days or have been in contact with a COVID-19 positive person. 


What Crisis Support is Provided to Parents Needing Child Care? 


The parent fee is being waived for those who are part of the School Readiness subsidized child care program that ELC North Florida manages. The Office of Early Learning will pay the entire cost of that fee. This also means parents will not have to come up with that portion right now and their providers will still be paid. 


  • VPK programs are still being fully funded and supported although not all programs remain open.
  • ALL terminations of School Readiness eligibility are suspended.
  • Timelines required for ALL redeterminations of School Readiness eligibility are extended.
  • Required documentation for School Readiness child absences are waived.


What Is Being Done to Help Child Care and VPK Centers to Stay Afloat? 


The Office of Early Learning (OEL), in addition to waiving the parent fee, will continue to pay centers per child enrolled before the crisis for those who are part of the subsidized school readiness program and VPK while providers are open.


Additionally, they are: 

  • Reimbursing School Readiness and VPK providers during temporary closures related to the COVID-19 virus emergency.
  • Cancelling remaining child screenings and assessments for both School Readiness and VPK.
  • Extending timelines for provider improvement plans and reports.
  • Waiving accountability implications of the fall 2020 kindergarten screening for VPK providers – which means that 2019-20 VPK readiness rates will not be calculated.
  • Canceling remaining School Readiness program assessments.


While OEL’s plan doesn’t help centers whose parents pay the centers directly, there is also some other government relief for small business owners as of mid-March which may be applicable to many child care centers . 


Governor Ron DeSantis put into action the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Emergency Bridge Loan Program to provide short-term, interest-free loans to small businesses. According to the guidelines, These short-term, interest-free working capital loans are intended to “bridge the gap” between the time a major catastrophe hits and when a business has secured longer term recovery resources, such as sufficient profits from a revived business, receipt of payments on insurance claims or federal disaster assistance.


Additionally, providers can participate in the Paycheck Protection Program which allows a small business that employs 500 employees or fewer to receive loans. A document from the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business answers questions regarding how to apply for the new emergency loans; eligibility; terms and guidelines available to small businesses under the CARES Act signed into law by President Trump on Friday, March 27, 2020 Visit this link to learn more:


Child Care Centers can apply for both the Emergency Bridge Loan Program and the Paycheck Protection Program at the same time.  


What Should Parents Do Right Now? 

Still wondering what to do as a parent? You’re not alone. 


As a word of encouragement to parents discerning the choice to put their child in care, Matheny offers, “As a parent this is a tough time and what is the right thing to do. Know we care about your children and follow best practices but always trust your gut when it comes to your child. You are doing the right thing.” 


The Early Learning Coalition of North Florida’s website and facebook page has up-to-date resources for providers and parents in addition to their child care services, school readiness services and VPK programs. Please visit online at or on Facebook at


The Early Learning Coalition of North Florida (ELC) supports potential and current providers through Episcopal Children’s Services, the ELC’s contracted primary service provider. Episcopal Children’s Services is available to offer information about starting a new child care business (including directing to DCF for licensing) and enhancing your program. Episcopal Children’s Services is eager to assist providers with Contracting with the Coalition and with questions about the VPK and School Readiness programs. Contact ECS at 904-726-1500, extension 7054. #ELCsTakeAction #Covid19UnsungHeroes


Contact: Dawn Bell, CEO, Early Learning Coalition of North Florida


Phone: (904) 342-2267 ext. 204 (office); (904) 377-5248 (cell)

Image/Caption: Ms. Christina educates preschoolers at Brighton Day Academy in St. Augustine on Thursday, April 3, 2020. Brighton Day Academy is one of the child care centers willing to be open to serve essential workers during the coronavirus in North Florida. #ELCsTakeAction #Covid19UnsungHeroes

Photo Link:



Early Learning Coalition of North Florida

[APRIL 3 WEBINAR] States’ Response to COVID-19 and Child Care – Part 1

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Child Care Aware® of America is hosting two upcoming webinars this week to help you understand the latest developments in funding and response efforts across the nation.

Join our new webinar series focusing on how states are responding to coronavirus

Friday, April 3, 2:15-3:15 p.m. EDT

In this first part of this webinar series, we are looking at how Vermont and Minnesota are responding to the coronavirus pandemic — specifically, what decisions they’re making about child care. We’ll look at their response around emergency care, supporting families with critical child care decisions, child care subsidies and supporting providers to care for essential workers’ children. You’ll hear from Aly Richards, CEO of Let’s Grow Kids and Ann McCully, Executive Director at Child Care Aware of Minnesota.

[Join the Webinar]


[APRIL 2 WEBINAR] Learn How to Sustain Your Child Care Program During COVID-19

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Child Care Aware® of America is hosting two upcoming webinars this week to help you understand the latest developments in funding and response efforts across the nation.

Learn How to Sustain Your Child Care Program During COVID-19

Thursday, April 2, 1:00-2:00 p.m. EDT

Last Friday, the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which includes dedicated child care funding within its $2 trillion stimulus package. Child care providers will learn what this funding means for them and hear an overview of the various business supports that are currently available to help sustain their child care business during this pandemic.

[Join the Webinar]


Attention Providers: How to Apply for Emergency Loans for Small Businesses

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Attention Providers: How to Apply for Emergency Loans for Small Businesses

Please review the attached FAQs from the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business for answers to many of the questions you might have regarding how to apply for the new emergency loans; eligibility; terms and guidelines available to small businesses under the CARES Act signed into law by President Trump on Friday, March 27, 2020.

Paycheck Protection for Small Businesses

Download (PDF, 65KB)

Support for School Readiness and VPK Providers: COVID-19

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Dear SR and VPK Providers:

The Department of Education and the Office of Early Learning are committed to providing up-to-date information and guidance to our early learning community to address concerns of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The health and safety of our children, families, and providers’ staff is of utmost importance.

We strongly recommend:

  • You adhere to the CDC’s March 15, 2020 Interim Guidance for higher-risk populations by limiting children and employees to no more than 10 people in a single occupied space.
  • You should also continuously monitor CDC guidance and to fully comply with all directives.

On March 17, Governor DeSantis held a press conference and DOE issued a press release detailing our efforts to:

  • Ensure that all SR and VPK providers receive their funding – which means we will pay/reimburse for additional child absences when the provider is open and for those that occur during temporary closures.
  • Eliminate all requirements for remaining child screenings/assessments or provider program assessments for the 2019-20 program year.
  •  Extend timelines for provider improvement plans and reports.

For families, we are:

  • Suspending termination of SR eligibility.
  •  Extending the timelines for redetermination of SR eligibility.
  • Waiving parent copays/fees for all eligible SR families regardless of their income.

We hope you can see that we are dedicated to ensuring that childcare providers will be able to financially support their day-to-day operations, including paying teachers. We will work with your coalition to provide more details related to implementation, and request that you do not make changes to your current SR or VPK calendars at this time. If you have additional questions, please contact your early learning coalition.

Shan Goff, Executive Director

Office of Early Learning/Department of Education

COVID-19 Emergency Financial Assistance and Loans

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Business Continuity and Recovery: A Message from St. Johns County Chamber

Dear Members,

As you might know, Governor Ron DeSantis announced the activation of the Business Damage Assessment survey to assess the impact of COVID-19 on Florida’s local business operations on March 12, 2020. If your business has been impacted by COVID-19 virus, we urge you to complete the state’s Business Damage Assessment Survey.

On March 16, 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis activated the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program to provide short-term, interest-free loans to small businesses feeling the economic turbulence from the Coronavirus. The application period opened Tuesday, March 17, and runs through May 8, 2020. Up to $50 million has been allocated for this program.

The President also activated a presidential disaster declaration in response to COVID-19. Impacted businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, and private nonprofit organizations may apply for low-interest loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). If your business has suffered substantial economic injury, you may qualify for an EIDL. The SBA can provide up to $2 million to help meet financial obligations and operating expenses that could have been met had the disaster not occurred.

Additionally, the U.S. Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the U.S. Department of Labor announced that small and midsize employers can begin taking advantage of two new refundable payroll tax credits, designed to immediately and fully reimburse them, dollar-for-dollar, for the cost of providing Coronavirus-related leave to their employees.This relief to employees and small and midsize businesses is provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed by President Trump on March 18, 2020. More about these credits is online here.

The next two videos in our Chamber Conversations series will focus on the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan and SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan as well as a conversation with CareerSource Northeast Florida regarding the Short Time Compensation program and Disaster Unemployment Assistance. We will continue to share to current and relevant information regarding Coronavirus and business continuity. If there are specific topics or questions you would like us to address, please email Cathy Newman at

Finally, today we are supporting #TheGreatAmericanTakeOut effort by ordering take-out or delivery from local restaurants. If you are able to #supportlocal by ordering take-out today, we encourage you to do so. If you share this online, please join us in using #TakeOutStJohns.

For more information and resources regarding business continuity and resiliency visit

Stay informed,




Isabelle Renault
President / CEO
St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce

The Cat in the Hat Visits the Ravine Gardens 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



ELC of North Florida volunteers Sara Tavender and Erika Bauserman along with the Cat in the Hat reading and having fun with the Dr. Seuss book “Ten Apples Up on Top” at Ravine Gardens.

PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla., March 20, 2020 – He’s back! The Cat in the Hat made a special visit to Ravine Gardens for a literacy event put on by the Early Learning Coalition of North Florida on Friday, March 13th. Called “Dr. Suess at the Ravines”, the event had a special story time program featuring the Cat in the Hat followed by an activity time that featured activities centered around different Dr. Suess books. Some of the activities included playing with Grinch slime, making Fox in Sox puppets, Cat in the Hat cup stacking, a One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish playdough table and more. 

This event was in celebration of literacy week, which is always the first part of March in celebration of Dr. Seuss’s birthday. This event was put on for local Putnam County preschools and more than 110 children and adults were in attendance. Each child received a FREE Dr. Seuss book and each school received a bag of Dr. Seuss themed books and materials for their classroom. 

“One of the biggest missions of the ELC of North Florida is to provide quality literacy programming to the many child care providers that we serve” says Joan Whitson, ELCNF Outreach Manager. 

The ELC would like to thank the 13-plus volunteers that showed up to help put on this event. ELC outreach volunteers assist with different themed literacy programs all year long and many of them read regularly in a local preschool. For more information about volunteering with the ELC of North Florida, please contact Joan Whitson at


Early Learning Coalition of North Florida

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