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Classes in session at former Parkrose elementary schools


Multnomah Early Childhood Program teacher Chris Cvitanich and Occupational Therapist Joni Burt ready 4-year-old Chloe -- who has a developmental disability -- for play and interaction with her peer companions.
The value of recycling and reusing extends beyond bottles and cans. Municipal buildings, once destined for the wrecking ball after outliving their initial purpose, can emerge from their retirement as the perfect venue to serve their populations in innovative new ways. Traditionally, churches and schools serve multiple community functions, from public events to extracurricular programs and social services. As regional populations swell or contract, age or commercialize, these public buildings transition to serve the needs of the changing community. Such is the case with two former Parkrose elementary schools: Thompson School, 14030 N.E. Sacramento St.; and Knott Elementary, 11456 N.E. Knott St.

Long defunct as public schools, these facilities are leased by the Parkrose School District to a number of not-for-profit children's services organizations, preserving the early childhood educational intent of the structures while providing more specialized care with a wider reach.

“It has been very nice,” said Pat Moffitt, the early intervention coordinator for Multnomah Education Service District's Early Childhood Program at Thompson School. “It was a school, so it was conducive to having children in the area, yet large enough to meet the needs of the program.”

For over 10 years MESD - the government agency that designs and delivers services to enhance learning at local school districts - has run its Multnomah Early Childhood Program out of seven classrooms at the Thompson site. MECP follows the year round school calendar, drawing its students from the Parkrose, David Douglas, Reynolds and Centennial School Districts.

Designed for special needs children aged 3 to 5, MECP evaluates each child's eligibility and develops an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) based on that child's needs and goals. Individualized attention to each child's IFSP is provided in a community preschool setting with the aid of support staff.

Head Start
Mt. Hood Community College Child & Family Services
Main Phone: 503-491-6111
Go to Community Connections, Family Support Programs

Morrison Child and Family Services
Central Intake Line: 503-542-3025
As part of a peer integration program, MECP also welcomes children from the community without special needs to attend either of its preschool sessions from 8:45 to 11:00 a.m. and 12:45 to 3:00 p.m. According to Moffitt, the peers “provide language models and play models that help support the growth and development of the IFSP goals.” This serves dual purposes. Working on a reduced or free lunch program - parents may pay up to $5 a session - MECP provides an inexpensive community preschool experience for the peers and behavior models for the special needs children.

MECP preschool classes generally consist of 10-15 students (for example, eight IFSP students to five peers) supervised by one teacher and two assistants, though the number of children in each class varies as each child's schedule is defined by his or her goals and needs. Children may participate in supplemental instruction such as speech therapy clinics, which children attend on a weekly basis. One hour daily from 11:00 a.m. to noon is designated for children with autism spectrum disorder to receive direct instruction in a smaller group setting.

As for staff, MECP houses offices for itinerant speech therapists and evaluation staff at Thompson, averaging 85-90 staff members working from the former elementary school.

MECP accepts student referrals from anyone who has a concern about a child's developmental needs, most commonly from parents and physicians. Funded through the Oregon Department of Education, it follows strict timelines to expedite a child's progress from referral to having an IFSP in place, which ranges from 45 days to no longer than four months, depending on the age of the child.

“Parkrose (School District) is good to work with, and it keeps activity going in the area which is school-based, which has been really nice,” Moffitt said of the Thompson school.

MECP utilizes seven of Thompson's classrooms; two more classrooms are devoted to the nationwide nonprofit Head Start, a tenant of both Thompson and Knott schools. A preschool program designed to prepare low income children for school, Head Start offers a comprehensive list of complimentary services including preschool classes, health and developmental screenings, and parent involvement activities and ensures each child has a nutritious meal.

Head Start's strategy involves partnering with programs like the USDA food program, which reimburses the school lunch, and utilizing volunteer dentists and nursing students from its grantee, Mt. Hood Community College.

Though Head Start programs consist of various chapters throughout the state, Thompson and Knott's services are administered through the college's Maywood campus, which disburses their funding. Since most schools in Mid-county suffer from overcrowding issues, Head Start adapts to any available common space for its programs, from churches to apartment buildings to senior living centers.

But, as Dawn Barberis, assistant director of the Head Start program at Mt. Hood pointed out, “they often don't have adequate classroom space because their needs are different than ours.”

Head Start's largest facility to date is at the Knott School. “We have been really fortunate to be able to stay at Knott School all these years,” Barberis said. “I have worked in this program for 23 years and we were in there before I started. We take a whole wing out there and we have had varying numbers of kids, but right now we actually are serving 200 preschoolers in that building.” Two classrooms are exclusively devoted to children from Parkrose.

Both Knott and Thompson Head Start programs host morning and evening sessions, each three and a half hours in duration. Though the main criteria to qualify for Head Start is a low-income status, 10 percent of students also exhibit disabilities, for which they partner with MECP.

The Knott site employs 39 full-time Head Start staff that consists of teachers, teaching assistants, food service staff and bus drivers. The program in practice resembles other preschools in that it utilizes a creative curriculum where the children learn through play. The classrooms exhibit the familiar block and house areas, art and sensory materials, with Head Start teachers embedding their curriculum into the environment.

Head Start accepts applications year-round, and though its wait list currently consists of several hundred names, the program considers each child's individual needs when assessing placement, from family issues to developmental disabilities. Mt Hood Community College's Head Start has recently expanded by 200 children over the past two years.

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