Spaces available in low-income preschool

Paula Nelson is baffled by the low number of low-income children enrolled in Encompass' preschool program. As the agency's family support specialist, she's usually "tearing her hair out" trying to find a place for the many families seeking a space in the Early Childhood and Assistance Program (ECAP).

However, just 10 of the 36 available spaces had been filled by late last week, she said.

"I just cannot figure it out," she said. "Maybe we're not getting the word out."

The drop in applications is even more baffling because the requirements to get into the program have been relaxed. To qualify, an applicant must earn 110 percent of the federal poverty level or less - for a family of four, that's $22,000. Previously, the program had to look at the past year's earnings; now it just considers the past month's.

That's important because if something major - like death, divorce or injury - cuts a family's income, it now can be considered, Nelson said. Before, it couldn't.

The preschool program is for children ages 3 and 4. The ECAP students are mixed with Encompass' full-paying students. There are two morning classes and one afternoon class, all at the North Bend center, 1407 Boalch Ave. N.W. The morning classes run from 9 a.m. to noon; the afternoon classes from 12:45-3:45 p.m. Classes begin Sept. 18.

Students get a meal and a snack and participate in a wide variety of activities inside the classroom or in the outside play area

"We really stress social and emotional development," Nelson said. "It's so important."

ECAP offers a host of other services for children and their families. The program is designed to give low-income families a hand to move up the socio-economic ladder. It is modeled after the federal Head Start program. Availability is based on need, but there are five spots available for families who exceed the minimums, Nelson said.

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