Study aims to open doors to early childhood learning |

Study aims to open doors to early childhood learning

Kelley Cox/Post IndependentAlicia Stanley, director of Holy Cross Preschool in West Glenwood, watches over Haley Antell, 3, left, and Zoe Robinson, 4, during playtime on Tuesday. Access to preschool in the region from Parachute to Aspen is the subject of a new study, the Valley Settlement Project, being carried out by The Manaus Fund using a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

CARBONDALE – A new initiative of the Carbondale-based Manaus Fund aims to improve early childhood learning opportunities and school readiness in the region from Parachute to Aspen.

The ultimate goal is to help low-income families better their overall financial success by providing access to the services they need, particularly as it relates to children, said Morgan Jacober, executive director of the Manaus Fund.

Called the Valley Settlement Project, the initial focus is on providing better access to preschools and other opportunities for children, from birth up to 8 years old, she said.

“We also want to find ways to provide for better family financial stability, looking at the various needs of low-income families from Aspen to Parachute,” Jacober said. “There are a lot of things that factor into financial struggles, but a lot begins with education.”

The project is being funded by a $150,000 planning grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Mich.

Through the end of October, between 300 and 500 families are to be interviewed about their needs and the obstacles they experience in accessing the various human services that are available, Jacober said.

“We will be doing the same thing with the human service organizations, talking to them about the services they offer, budget constraints, amount of staffing … those kinds of things,” Jacober said.

The project will then identify strategies to assist low-income families in obtaining the services they need. A follow-up grant will be sought to implement the strategies, she said.

The Manaus Fund, founded by Roaring Fork Valley philanthropist George Stranahan, was begun with a mission “to achieve a more just society through investments and partnerships, identified by the community it serves.”

Since 2005, it has partnered with organizations such as LIFT-UP, the Aspen Thrift Shop, Third Street Center and, on the current project, with the Western Colorado Preschool Cooperative.

“The goal of the Valley Settlement Project is to empower parents to better understand and sustain their children’s development … to become advocates for their children and themselves; and to make significant social and economic gains as a family,” Stranahan said in a press release about the project.

“We want to be able to fill in the gaps when it comes to low-income services for these families,” Jacober added. “There are a lot of services out there, but many times families don’t know how to access them.”

While many of the low-income families in the area are Latino immigrant families, she said, “we have been surprised at how many Anglo families are finding themselves in the same predicament, especially since the recession.”

The Manaus Fund also started the Western Slope Preschool Cooperative three years ago, as a way to take the administrative burden off the shoulders of preschool administrators in the area.

“We work with the members of the cooperative from Aspen to Parachute to handle the back-office functions,” Jacober explained. “Oftentimes, the administrative burden on preschool directors is so great that they don’t have time to train teachers and focus on their area of expertise.”

At the time the cooperative was begun, there was a collective waiting list for available preschool spots of 60 families, she said.

Since the recession, however, that hasn’t been as big an issue. But the cost for preschool is still a hurdle for families that need it, she said.

“Most private preschools do try to assist with tuition, but there are other resources available that families may not be aware of,” Jacober said.

For more information on The Manaus Fund, visit, and for more about the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, visit

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