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

Family Engagement Month is November – Activities for Your Family

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November is Family Engagement Month

Join us as we celebrate families and encourage families to be engaged in their child’s learning, development and well-being.

Did you know that family engagement is important because it supports children’s school readiness and promotes children’s school success by increasing motivation? It also reduces behavioral problems and improves the social-emotional development of children. Family engagement also fosters skills in young children such as impulse control, attention, memory and planning skills.

Celebrating Families

Throughout the month of November, we want to celebrate Florida’s families. Be sure to use #EngagedFamiliesFL when posting on social media. The Office of Early Learning will be sharing #EngagedFamiliesFL tagged posts on our social media throughout the month. You can follow along using #EngagedFamiliesFL on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Family Engagement Materials

Vroom Week

November 18-22

A child’s brain grows the fastest from birth through age 5! Helping them learn now gets them ready for school, friends and life.

Parents, the time you spend with your child helps their brain grow strong. Even a few minutes count! Learn how to turn every day moments into brain building moments with Vroom. You already have what it takes!

Vroom Week Flyer

Download (PDF, 580KB)

[RELEASE] Early Learning Coalition of North Florida and Amazing Grace Crop Maze Host Literacy Event

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Contact: Joan Whitson, Early Literacy Outreach Manager


Phone: (904) 342-2267




Early Learning Coalition of North Florida and Amazing Grace Crop Maze Host Literacy Event



GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla., October 29, 2019 –  The Early Learning Coalition of North Florida (ELC) hosted their fourth early literacy Fall event at the Amazing Grace Crop Maze in Green Cove Springs. Twenty-one local preschools attended the day’s event for a total of almost 500 children.

During the morning hours, the venue provided hay rides to preschool children which drove them through pumpkin patches. In the afternoon, there was a crop-maze science adventure. Children also enjoyed a mini hay bale maze and were included in other various farm attractions such as rat rollers, duck races, a giant corn popper trampoline and visiting Uncle Buck’s farm animals. 


What makes ELC days at the maze so special is that along with all of the regular farm activities like the corn maze, tractor rides, a petting zoo, jump pad, ball zone and corn play bins, the children get to make a fun fall craft with the help of the ELC outreach team. The children are also read the story “Spookley the Square Pumpkin” and are given a free copy of the book to take home. Child care providers in attendance from Bradford, Clay, Putnam, St. Johns and Duval counties received a bagful of assorted Spookley books as well as other Fall-related books. 

The ELC is happy to have this partnership with the Amazing Grace Crop Maze. “Getting kids to experience the farm and learn more about agriculture is such a good educational experience,” said Joan Whitson, ELC outreach coordinator for the event. 

The Early Learning Coalition is the leading voice in six counties for child care. ELC works with many other local agencies to ensure that all families have access to quality, affordable child care. Their mission is achieved by leading projects that increase the quality and availability of child care professionals, and advocate child care policies that positively impact the lives of children and families. To learn more about the Early Learning Coalition of North Florida and how assist in ensuring quality child care for all families, visit us at



Early Learning Coalition of North Florida




Early Learning Coalition of North Florida (ELC) volunteers Che’ Russell, Bonnie Nakino, Erika Bauserman and ELC Outreach Coordinator Joan Whitson enjoying story time with Spookley the Square Pumpkin at Amazing Grace Crop Maze on October 9, 2019.

VPK students from Lake Asbury Elementary waiting to get on the tractor ride at Amazing Grace Crop Maze on October 16, 2019.

Flora and the Flamingo Make Their Debut in North Florida

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Early Learning Coalition of North Florida (ELC) volunteer Kathy Stawara of Orange Park (AKA “The Flamingo”) and ELC outreach assistant Sandi Dunnavant with children at Baker County Pre-K in Macclenney.

The Early Learning Coalition of North Florida’s (ELC) outreach team debuted their new music and movement literacy program in pre-schools this past spring and summer in Clay and Baker Counties. They will expand the program to include Bradford, Putnam, Nassau and St. Johns Counties in the Fall. The program, geared to 3-5 year olds, is meant to highlight the importance of music and movement as it pertains to a child’s learning and development.  


Books like “Rupert Can Dance” by Jules Feiffer, “Down by the Cool of the Pool” by Tony Mitten and “Flora and the Flamingo” by Molly Idle are highlighted during this program.  During the reading of Flora and the Flamingo one of the ELC volunteers dresses up as the flamingo then picks a child from the class they are visiting to join them in acting out the story. Whatever dance movement the flamingo does, Flora copies it. The children get to dance to different kinds of music and make music with bells.


Volunteers are the key to success for this program and the other themed programs that the ELC puts on, including: Space, Meet the Masters, Dinosaurs, Ocean Themed, Mother Goose “Rhymers are Readers” and Eric Carle’s World of Colors. Volunteers help the ELC in two main ways. The first is by being an outreach volunteer that assists in putting on programs. These volunteers read stories, sing songs, lead craft activities and maybe wear themed costumes – such as a shark for the ocean themed program. The second way volunteers help is by being a weekly reading volunteer to a group of local preschool children. Reading volunteers get the privilege of exposing the same group of children each week to great books and get to plant the seed of early reading.


Exposing children to the arts at a young age is very important to building their creativity.  Learning to dance or play and instrument builds confidence which is so important to early child development.  The ELC outreach team regularly puts on themed literacy programs in local childcare centers and preschool classrooms.  The goal of these programs is to expose children to quality literature and to reach important topics that children need to learn.  The children receive a FREE book relating to the theme of the program and the classroom receives a bag of teaching resources and books to further teach the topic at a later time. 


For more information about volunteering contact Joan Whitson, Early Literacy Outreach Manager at or 904-342-2267. 


The ELC 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 four-year-olds). 


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



Early Learning Coalition of North Florida