It takes someone special to be a child advocate. Someone who can see past the behaviors, the traumas, the defiance, and know that child can still learn and be successful. It takes an extraordinary person to help the child see that in themselves and realize their potential. That’s what the caring staff at Partners in Learning are doing daily.
Amy Marie Vestal is the Developmental Director and Community Inclusion Specialist at Partners in Learning and is passionate about doing whatever it takes to make sure that a child and his/her family receives the proper care and resources. “I was contacted by a family whose son had been kicked out of three different preschools for disruptive behaviors. The family was in fear he was about to be expelled again. After my initial observation, I learned he was, in fact, expelled the following day. I met with the devastated family to help them look for a center that could meet their son’s developmental needs. He found a home at Partners in Learning. There he had the classroom support he needed for success. I also connected the family with our Family Support Specialists who helped them with the referral process for a developmental and behavioral evaluation. He was later diagnosed with ADHD. The family was hesitant to start medications since he was so young. Together, we formed a plan and provided the evidence-based support he needed. I am happy to report he successfully attended Partners in Learning for two years and went on to Kindergarten, all without having to be medicated,” explains Amy.
“You don’t enroll a child. You enroll a family,” declares Norma Honeycutt, Executive Director. She continued, “It’s about changing the community, one child at a time.”
While Partners in Learning does offer child care and early childhood education, they are more than a just child care center. They are a Community Impact Center.
Who are Partners in Learning?
Partners in Learning is a non-profit organization that specializes in meeting the needs of every child and their family. Their community impact program provides comprehensive center-based, community-based, and home-based services to promote the growth of children. Their mission is to model the highest quality learning environment that stimulates families and the community to provide optimal growth and development of children. They serve all children, no matter their income or disability. As an early childhood school, Partners in Learning is 5-star rated and nationally accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
Currently, Partners in Learning has two locations, one by Catawba College and one by Novant Health Rowan Medical Center. They serve over 200 children ages 6 months to 4 years. 60% of the population is low income or poverty level, 45% of the students are diagnosed with special needs, and 10% of students are in foster care and receiving trauma support. All classrooms are inclusive, meaning that children of all ability levels are able to access the environment.
Learning Doesn’t Stop in the Classroom
Something truly unique about Partners in Learning is their family support services. Many students who come to Partners in Learning are struggling, and Norma takes a dedicated approach to helping her students. They believe that learning doesn’t end in the classroom, but continues to the home, and so they offer home-based services to their families. This manifests itself in home-based visits, assistance with conflicts between parents and staff in the classroom, strategizing with staff and families about environmental factors that contribute to behavioral issues, helping families follow through with referrals for community resources, and accompanying families to appointments for support.
Cassie Karriker and Tonya Corell work closely with teachers, students, and families. Cassie says that a majority of their students are diagnosed with special needs during their time at Partners in Learning. While getting a proper diagnosis can be a good thing for early intervention and help, it can be completely overwhelming for parents. Cassie offers to attend these doctors’ appointments with her parents. She acts as a support and a guide to these families, offering them real advice and support after parents receive a life-changing diagnosis for their child. “Doctors just tell parents what their child’s diagnosis is, and that’s it. They don’t offer advice on what to do or how to raise your child now that he/she has a disability. That’s where Partners in Learning comes in. We offer support on what to do now,” Cassie explains.
One such story is that of Landon. This is what his mother, Katie, had to say when asked about her experience.
“We are so incredibly grateful for the improvements and strides we have seen in Landon since he has been attending Partners! When Landon first started at Partners, he avoided eye contact, he would never respond to his name, he put everything in his mouth, and he avoided engaging with other people. Now, Landon makes eye contact every day with the people who talk to him. He also will respond to his name, most of the time. He also brings us toys and activities each day wanting us to engage with him. He rarely puts things into his mouth. The teachers and therapists who have worked with him at Partners have made such a difference! Landon is truly trying to communicate and engage with us now. Since attending Partners, Landon has learned how to interact with other children and follow a routine and directions. He even serves as the line leader for his class when they go to the playground! We have also seen a major improvement in his focus. From attending Partners, he has learned how to focus during circle time, group activities, and meals. There was a time, Landon wouldn’t sit in his seat to eat meals with us as a family. Now, he has learned how to focus on eating and trying new foods. We are so happy to be able to sit down and eat a meal together as a family. Landon is so excited to come to Partners each day. Some days, he jumps up and down with excitement as he gets to his classroom door. He always gives his teachers and the people who interact with him big hugs each day. We are so grateful that the teachers and therapists at Partners have loved and supported our special little boy! Landon was currently given an educational diagnosis for Autism. Experiences at Partners give us hope that Landon has a bright future ahead of him as long as he is given support from the right people. We know that without Partners, Landon would not be where he is today.”
Partners in Learning is not just a school, it’s a community support center. Not only does Partners in Learning educate over 200 students daily, they also work with over 100 school-aged children in their afterschool programs. They provide resources and supportive services to families who are in need, not just those who are members of Partners in Learning.
Partners in Learning offers a Triple P Program for all community members. Triple P is a positive parenting program adopted by the state of North Carolina. This program works with parents and helps them learn positive parenting techniques to support their child. Partners in Learning has a contract with Social Services to provide parenting classes for families at risk of losing their child or trying to reunify.
Triple P has done a lot of good for many struggling families in the community. One such story is that of a single mother, working hard to raise her four children of varying ages. “She was struggling with disrespect. The children were just not following directions,” Tonya said. After visiting the mother and watching her deal with her children, Tonya began making small suggestions and started to build a relationship with the mother. By using the strategies provided by Triple P, the mother now reports feeling more empowered and less stressed with daily parenting struggles. “This full-time working mother of four has managed to carve out individual time with each child, strengthening their relationships and decreasing poor behaviors.”
Another service they offer is support groups. It can be challenging to raise a special needs child, and sometimes you just need a little extra support. Partners in Learning spearheads local support groups for children with special needs so that the children and parents have support not just from Partners in Learning, but also from each other. These groups have playdates, go on outings, and offer advice to one another.
Finally, Partners in Learning believes in what they are doing, and they want to share that with others. They are involved in training and coaching 500 teachers and directors in other child care facilities each year, both locally and in other counties. Every year they host an annual Special Needs Mini-Conference at Catawba College for teachers to come and learn about teaching students with special needs. They also provide internships for college and high-school students who are interested in early childhood education.
Recognition from Ellen DeGeneres
On October 7, Ellen DeGeneres took notice of Partners in Learning and the impact they are making in the lives of their students and families. She posted this video for #MondayMotivation on her Twitter page @TheEllenShow. It showed a student, Gabe Andruzzi, who suffers from an unknown genetic disorder that effects his lower extremities. He was running with his crutches with Dewayne “Speedy” Smith. Speedy owns his own company called 87FitLife and works with Partners in Learning to help students with their developmental goals. Speedy will be working regularly with Gabe at Partners in Learning to help him with his goals.
This video is just one snippet of the amazing work this organization does. Partners in Learning takes the time to assess the needs of the children, families, and community that they work with and provide them with whatever it is that they need.
For more information on Partners in Learning, check out their website here.
For more success stories, visit this link.