Gaffney, SC

Program being resumedFree Access

A $3.5 million state grant will allow kindergarten teachers to visit at-risk children and make it easier for counties to identify services available to parents of young children.

Cherokee County First Steps will receive a portion of the grant funds to resume a home visitation program called Countdown to Kindergarten to serve a maximum of 30 children this summer. Originally started in 2015, First Steps director Dorothy Priester said a lack of funding prevented the early childhood program from being able to offer the home visits this past summer.

“There were funds provided in the new grant so we can offer Countdown to Kindergarten again,” Priester said. “We are excited we will be able to provide home visits next summer. The teacher gets to know the child and parents, and the effort helps everyone better understand what’s to come once school starts.”

The federal preschool development grant will be executed by the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS). The grant is done in partnership with South Carolina First Steps, the state Department of Education, Head Start and the state’s Early Childhood Advisory Council.

South Carolina had to provide a 30 percent match for the federal grant, which is more than $1 million. While some states turned to the private sector for matching funds, South Carolina has pledged tax dollars to the effort.

The grant will pay for an assessment of all early childhood services available to children from infant through age 5 statewide and identify gaps where children’s needs are not addressed in the state. After the work is completed, a website will be developed where parents can learn about services available and how children can access them.

“We are excited for the opportunity to work collaboratively to invest in our youngest children and provide a foundation for them to succeed,” said Michele Bowers, division director of early care and education at DSS.

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