From pregnancy to kindergarten, Bay-Arenac coalition promotes school readiness

For Bay and Arenac county families with young children, all doors lead to services to a great start to kindergarten.

Whether families need help to kick substance abuse issues during pregnancy or finding family-friendly activities, the Bay-Arenac Great Start Collaborative is ready to help. The Collaborative is a coordinated system of community resources and support available in Bay and Arenac counties. 

"We want to make sure that children are ready for kindergarten when they get there,” said Gretchen Wagner, Director of Early Childhood Education for the Bay-Arenac ISD. "That is our Number 1 goal.”

The Collaborative estimates there are about 2,000 days between birth and the first day of kindergarten. Add in 9 months of pregnancy, and there’s a lot that can be done to realize that goal.

“What we’ve done in Bay and Arenac county is somewhat unique and also pretty cool,” said Rich Van Tol, Great Start Collaborative Coordinator. "We’ve tried to create a no wrong door approach for families with young children to get enrolled in a wide array of early childhood programs.”

Across the state, a wide range of perinatal home visiting programs bring professional support to Michigan's new moms and moms-to-be, helping to fill the void of community support and develop vital skills. 

In Bay and Arenac counties, the home visits are geared toward educating parents.

"Kids don’t come with instructions, so we try to make sure that the parents understand where their child is developmentally and what types of activities “ support early skills including literacy and math. “(Parents) can go and provide those activities in a developmentally-appropriate way for their children to help grow their children’s skills.”

Home visits are just one of the options that exist to help families Bay and Arenac counties. Van Tol said the programs each have different goals and different qualifications. He encourages families with questions to either fill out the intake form available on the Bay-Arenac Pregnancy to Preschool Partnership website or call (855) 644-PreK to get into the system and begin discovering programs that can help. 

Some of the programs that exist through the Great Start Collaborative include:
Most of the programs do not require a referral. However, Van Tol said the programs are happy to work with physician’s offices to help meet the needs of a family.

Van Tol also pointed out that many of the programs available don’t fit into medical needs. “There are a lot of other resources out there. Families might be looking for child care and we have Great Start to Quality. Oftentimes, families are looking for things to do in the community and Great Lakes Bay Parents is an amazing asset.”

The Collaborative maintains strong ties with 211 services to help families facing issues with basic needs such as housing, employment, utility bills, transportation, and more. 

"We are here to serve families with young children,” Van Tol said. The programs help each other too. “We all serve as ambassadors for each other’s programs to make sure that if families want services, we find out who it is who is going to be the best fit,” he said.