Midtown Magazine

Page 104

Nurturing the


By Ed Bristol

A three-year program prepares at-risk kids for kindergarten and beyond. What happens when a five-year-old with little or none of the emotional, social, or academic readiness of their new classmates arrives in kindergarten? “They give up,” says Laurie Harrell, executive director of Raleigh’s Wee Care Children’s Enrichment Program. “Then they often end up being the ‘troublemaker’ instead of the ‘dumb kid,’ because they think that’s a better reputation to have.” To tackle the problem head-on,

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Harrell and program administrator Ellen Safrit enroll 10 children into their program—all beginning at age two, and all from disadvantaged backgrounds. When the children graduate at age five, another class enters. Harrell and Safrit believe it’s the only such program in the country that hosts a single class for three years. The children are from low-income families, many are from single-parent homes, and most have experienced neighborhoods with a high incidence of

violent and drug-related crimes. Even as preschoolers, some talk innocently of “weed” and “pot.” Later, their first memories might include traumatic events, like hiding with an aunt under the bed as a SWAT team storms the house. The nonprofit’s mission is to provide these children with the developmental experiences they’ve missed, so that, as Harrell explains, “When they walk into that kindergarten classroom, they feel confident they can do what the other kids are doing.”