Providing a pathway to early education

Johnstown, Cambria County, Pa. - The Early Learning Pathway for Cambria County is connecting children to early education programs and teaching parents and guardians how to find those services.

The pathway provides counseling and education programs for parents and kids pre-birth up to age 5.

"Brain development starts at conception and it doesn't stop from there," said Travis Hutzell, the Resource Development Director for United Way of Laurel Highlands. "The widest part of that brain development closes around age 2, so before a kid even walks into an educational institution, a lot of the brain development learning skills have already developed."

The United Way of the Laurel Highlands, Greater Johnstown School District and other organizations collaborated to create the pathway. Now, they want to get the word out to families in Cambria County, a rural area where poverty can limit access to early education.

"They don't have access to quality literature. They don't have a lot of opportunities for oral language development. And at times, our students come in and benchmark below their peers in more affluent school districts," said Amy Arcurio, the Greater Johnstown School District Assistant Superintendent.

The Early Learning Pathway is designed to teach kids the social and academic skills in math and reading that they will need before entering a Kindergarten classroom.

"You don't have to have a lot of money to have access to the tools and opportunities for your children to learn," Arcurio said.
The pathway's sponsors will need to raise around $5 million over the next five years to provide the free and income-based services. They want to encourage families to sign up for the early education services because it can put children on a path toward success.

"Enrolling in these programs, you're investing in your child's academic future. It doesn't mean you're a bad parent. It's not punitive. When babies are born, they're not born with a manual, so it's important that there are services and supports out there for parents to be able to ask questions," Hutzell said.

To learn more about the Early Learning Pathway for Cambria County you can contact one of the participating organizations including United Way of the Laurel Highlands, Home Nursing Agency, Beginnings Inc., PA Pre-K Counts, Professional Family Care Services, Community Action Partnership of Cambria County, Cambria County Child Development Corporation and Cambria County Child Care Information Services.

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