YORK—Research has revealed early child-to-caregiver interactions affect brain development and functioning for the rest of an infant or toddler’s life.

Fortunately there is a resource in York for helping fulfill that need for at-risk children.

York Public Schools’ Sixpence program and Parent and Child Learning Center play space focus primarily on at-risk children ages 0-5 who are low income, speak English as a second language, be a teen parent, a parent who has not graduated from high school or received a GED, and premature or low birth weight. These children and their families, according to many studies, often need the most help.

“Children in low-income families have been found to show lags in cognitive and behavioral development compared to their peers in higher-income families,” said the National Center for Children in Poverty. “Other risk factors, such as living in a single-parent family or low parent education levels, especially when combined with poverty, can markedly increase children’s chances of adverse outcomes.”

Sixpence and the Parent and Child Learning Center aims to help parents in these situations avoid adverse outcomes. Programming and assistance are designed for children and their caregivers to engage, explore, and learn together – focusing on developmental milestones in at-risk children aged 0-5.

“We are a program that believes parents are the first and most important teachers,” said Chelsey Koehn, Early Childhood Coordinator/Teacher at York Public Schools.

Sixpence’s Parent and Child Learning Center is one outlet to provide the caregivers of an at-risk child ways to give their infant or toddler the kind of interactions and stimulation the child needs – and have fun doing it. There is also a parent information station for caregivers, which includes books, DVDs, brochures and other resources. An early childhood educator is also on-hand to answer questions, offer information and support, or refer caregivers to additional resources.

Upon request the Parent and Child Learning Center provides a wellness center for weight and height checks. Certified Lactation Counselors are available for breastfeeding support. Caregivers who need up-to-date car seat information can also turn to the wellness center.

Through Sixpence, visits to work with caregivers and their child in their own residence are also available. Koehn said this area of the program has expanded. “We’ve grown to three other home visitors – one is bilingual,” she said.

Koehn said she has big dreams for early childhood education in the York area. “I would love to see us have an early childhood facility – a one-stop shop,” she said, admitting establishing such a facility would be challenging. “I know there are a lot of moving parts,” she said.

York’s Sixpence program is funded by an endowment established by the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation/Buffett Early Childhood Institute. It is a long-term award. “Once you have the grant, you keep going,” Koehn said.

Established in Nebraska in 2006, Sixpence is a statewide partnership between state agencies and private philanthropy with the intent of creating an endowment to provide high-quality early learning opportunities targeting Nebraska’s youngest at-risk children.

Sixpence and the Parent and Child Learning Center’s schedule coincide with the York Public Elementary School schedule. It is open from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Additional events are scheduled throughout the months, including TOT Times, which are open to the community. The next TOT Time is October 17, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. For more events, a schedule is located at the Parent and Child Learning Center.

Donations are accepted, and Sixpence staff makes sure that they reach families or other community resources in need. Volunteers are also needed. “We love having volunteers at our main events like our carnival, fall fest, et cetera,” said Koehn.

The Parent and Child Learning Center is located at 520 N. Grant Ave. in downtown York, and can be reached at 402-362-1414 (ask for Chelsey).

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