ALEXANDRIA, VA – Kathy Wilson was a passionate early childhood educator, advocate, and program leader. When she died 15 years ago, of an unexpected heart attack, her husband Paul and her children Casey and Fletcher, established the Kathy Wilson Foundation to honor her life and carry on Kathy’s zeal for full inclusion and visibility of atypically developing young children in the programs that serve them.
Board member and close friend and early childhood colleague of Kathy, Sissy Walker recalls how exercised Kathy would become whenever she learned of a young child having to leave a program because the supports weren’t in place to fully include that child. “In the early days of the foundation, we provided mini-grants to area early childhood programs for support services such as speech and language or occupational therapists,” Walker says.
Then nearly eight years ago, on a visit with her three year old granddaughter, Sissy spied a letter on her son’s fridge from the town’s early childhood office, inviting her son and his wife to bring their daughter to a free developmental screening. “A Eureka moment ensued; the idea of a structural project that could benefit many more children and families in the City was born – universal early developmental screening – and the rest is history,” Walker adds.
For the last seven years the foundation has offered the “Ages and Stages” screening free of charge, in conjunction with the City’s Early Childhood Division – to all children ages 0-5 enrolled in participating public and private programs in the City (the foundation operates primarily in the private program space while supporting the City’s parallel efforts in the public one).
The pandemic was the cloud with the silver lining – all screening is now able to be done digitally – just a link to a questionnaire in multiple languages, that parents, caregivers or teachers can easily and quickly fill out.
“To date, over 3000 screenings have been completed through our public and private partnerships; screenings which can make a huge difference when it comes to connecting a child to a fuller evaluation and, when needed, community supports and resources to help strengthen specific areas of their development – all BEFORE a child starts their formal education in kindergarten,” says Sissy Walker.
Program Director Dr. Rees Kirkorian states, “Through the early childhood screening project, we, along with our City agency partners, are able to get a good picture of how very young children in Alexandria are developing, what their support needs are, and how public and private resources can be channeled to meet those needs.”
Screening also has immediate benefits to families, teachers and caregivers of young children, providing assurance that all is well, or referrals to support services and community resources when that is indicated. In short, screening can make all the difference to the individual child as well as to the community at large.
Looking ahead, the Kathy Wilson Foundation intends to significantly expand its screening efforts. “More children screened means more children on the road to reaching their full potential!” exclaims Walker.
Below is a list of Alexandria programs which currently partner with the Kathy Wilson Foundation and the Early Childhood Division to offer free regular screening to children from 0 – 5 years:
Abracadabra Child Care and Development Center
Alexandria City Public Schools Pre-K
Agudas Achim Preschool
Alexandria Head Start and Early Head Start
Center for Alexandria’s Children “Learn and Playgroups”
Child and Family Network Centers
Children’s International School
Creative Play School
Del Ray Montessori School
Grace Episcopal Preschool
Happy Home Child Learning Center
Hopkins House Helen Day Preschool Academy
St. Clement Episcopal Day School
The Parent-Infant-Education (P.I.E.) Program
Washington Street Preschool
With donor support, they can continue to expand universal free early childhood screening in Alexandria.
Early giving through Spring2Action began April 12, 2023. To donate to the Kathy Wilson Foundation during Spring2ACTion 2023, click HERE.
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