Matchmaker, matchmaker … that has been Lincoln Littles over the past several months, matching Educare – a research-based early childcare education program – with a group of local, early childcare centers.

It all started when Educare started contemplating a program called Beyond the Walls, a concept of sharing their teaching and mentoring expertise beyond the walls of their program.  In the meantime, Suzanne Schneider, associate director for Lincoln Littles, was growing increasingly aware that many of the smaller, childcare programs in Lincoln could use some support and reinforcement.

“It was a partnership that just made sense, asking Educare to share some of their resources with community providers, all of us serving similar families,” Schneider explained.  “So, I asked – and they said yes.  It was really that simple … It feels like we’re holding hands, a dream come true, sharing all our resources.  This has been so impactful, wow, we are all super energized.”

The program bloomed this summer and has been blossoming ever since, she said.  “The wheels seem to be moving faster and faster.”

The concept is very needs-based.  Perhaps Educare is doing a training session, so they would invite staff from other childcare centers.  Maybe one childcare center has extra rocking chairs or dishes, and they share with another. Educare might send a mentor teacher to another building to help them with a challenging issue related to a student behavior, or a classroom design.

“This is our first leap into Beyond the Walls, and we are already seeing so many possibilities, such like-mindedness,” according to Karla Bohl, site director for Educare.   “When Suzanne came to us with the idea, we jumped on it – 100 percent let’s do this.”

Serving as a childcare center director can be a lonely job, Bohl continued.  “But we are all in this together.  I have master teachers at Educare with years of know-how and lots of knowledge, and I want them to get out into the community to share that experience and wisdom … We benefit as well.  It is so valuable for our teachers to help others, to learn and grow from that experience.”

She believes the collaboration is a powerful force, actually starting to change the landscape of early care education: “We are re-imagining childcare … Educare is blessed with many opportunities that a lot of early childhood education centers do not have – expertise, training, resources – and we have come to recognize that we have a responsibility to share those blessings.”

Lincoln Littles serves as something of a liaison, a central point to tie the collaboration together, Schneider explained – starting with identifying the initial four childcare programs to partner with Educare: Busy Feet, Kids Imagination Station, The Malone Center and the Northeast Family Center in Havelock.

“Every single program was onboard immediately,” she said.  “One director even described how they were barely hanging on right now, and that Educare support would mean everything.”

Curt Krueger, executive director of the Northeast Family Center, reported the partnership has already been reaping incredible gains in a variety of ways.

“I have a new director who has been talking with Educare for support and advice,” he said.  “And I have been meeting with the executive director of Educare Lincoln – Quentin Brown – who has been offering guidance in my vision to continually improve the quality of services at the Northeast Family Center.”

He expressed gratitude to both Educare – as well as Lincoln Littles, “for bringing us all together.”

Schneider said it was a compelling experience watching a wide range of staff members work together to strengthen childcare in Lincoln.  “It has lived up to all my hopes … We have strong, solid programs in this community, but now we can look to expand this program further and make us all even stronger.”

Bohl said they are only in the infancy stages.  “We are only beginning, things are just starting to get moving.”

She imagines, eventually, gathering together for monthly groups of school directors and brainstorming problems and issues – calling on one another whenever there is a problem to solve.

“I feel very excited about continuing this well into the future and relying on each other. We are dreaming big.”

*Educare is a research-based early childhood program that prepares vulnerable young children for success in school and in life.  They provide children from birth to age 5 with quality early education, support families, and arm teachers with effective teaching practices.

*Lincoln Littles is a local, passionate network of advocates focused on ensuring access to quality early childhood care and education.