City resident to lead pre-K program

To Natasha Langford’s surprise, her middle son was not considered kindergarten-ready.

The 28-year-old Seymour resident said her son, who did not attend preschool before entering his first year of elementary school, received low readiness test scores used by the state to measure skills of children.

Langford recalls leaving the parent-teacher conference after the scores were reviewed.

“(I asked) myself how a young professional — involved in the community — could be so unaware of what was required of my kindergartner,” she said.

The mother of four said she and her husband worked diligently outside the classroom to get her son up to speed. Because of that experience, Langford decided to serve as a volunteer with the Jackson County Education Coalition to bring awareness to other parents of what is required to be kindergarten-ready and the importance of preschool.

Just recently, she took on an additional role — becoming the new project manager for the On My Way Pre-K pilot program.

“The children of our community are our future leaders. I refer to them as our future community,” she said. “If we can prepare our future community for kindergarten, they are more likely to be successful not only in school but also later in life.”

The On My Way Pre-K program is the state-funded pre-K pilot program to give low-income families access to high-quality, early learning preschool. Last year, Jackson County and four other Hoosier counties, Allen, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh, were selected to take part in the program.

“There are a lot of moving parts in this program, and so it will be helpful to have another person on board that can make sure that all the parts are moving correctly,” coalition Executive Director Dan Hodge said of Langford.

With little time to waste, Langford’s responsibilities of working with providers, families and community partners to ensure success for the program have begun.

“She is really going to have to hit the ground running,” Hodge said. “The grant starts July 1 for the school year, so there’s a lot of things to manage between now and then.”

Langford will be working 30 to 40 hours a week out of the Jackson County Learning Center on Seymour’s east side. She will be on a contract basis, and depending on funding from the state, she will hold the position until June 30, 2016.

Hodge said Langford’s background, knowledge and skills are exactly what the program needs.

She has been a volunteer of the coalition for more than two years and was even involved with the grant-writing team that obtained the state grant. She also has been involved in marketing and social media and most recently has worked with the coalition’s community outreach subcommittee.

“I have been involved with meetings with other community partners, providers and state agencies,” she said. “Knowing the lingo, the grant requirements and the Paths to QUALITY program (the state’s voluntary rating and improvement program through the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration) will be very helpful going forward.”

In addition, she currently has a preschooler of her own.

“You could say I’m living the dream myself on the challenges, as well as knowing what has worked for our family,” she said.

Hodge said some of her duties will be to attend local and state meetings and work with pre-K stakeholders, parents and the community to enroll children. She’ll also assist with marketing, overseeing and coordinating family recruitment, and enhancing provider engagement and capacity.

Langford encourages others to pass the information along so families can take advantage of a child receiving a free preschool education.

“Tell a friend, tell a neighbor, tell a stranger,” she said. “The success of our program depends on finding each and every child in the community that qualifies.”

Applications are now being accepted from low-income families in Jackson County. The Indiana Office of Early Childhood and Out-of-School Learning will accept those through April 30.

Only those families who have an income below 127 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible to participate. That means a family of four cannot have an annual income exceeding $30,080.70 to qualify.

Also, the child enrolled must be 4 years old by Aug. 1.

Families that receive grants will then choose from any of the approved On My Way Pre-K programs available in the area.

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For information on the On My Way Pre-K program, contact Natasha Langford at 812-519-2923 or email [email protected].