EXPAND Fortress: Fortress Early Learning Center

Stacy Kocur is the Director of Communications and Development. A volunteer since 2004 and on staff since 2008, Stacy has watched the preschool program grow and thrive, and she has seen firsthand the positive long-term outcomes it gives our kids.

Mrs. Jenn, our preschool director, leading carpet time with these little learners

Mrs. Jenn, our preschool director, leading carpet time with these little learners

Fortress YDC’s preschool program is in its 8th year of operation. What started as a twice-weekly mother’s day out program is on the verge of explosive growth, the realization of a long-held dream of the Fortress board and staff.

When we launched our preschool program in 2008, our primary goal was to provide a happy, nurturing atmosphere for the children of kids who had grown up at Fortress. Because we weren’t licensed for preschool (and couldn’t obtain licensure in our 100+-year old building), we were only allowed to operate two mornings per week. We staffed the preschool with a group of loving, committed volunteers -many of whom still log hours every week - and began pouring love into the hearts of those precious little ones. We served a healthy breakfast and lunch each day, stocked our shelves with books and toys, and were thrilled when a brand new volunteer took it upon herself to raise the funds and manpower to build a playground exclusively for the use of our preschoolers. We consistently enrolled the maximum 22 children, and kept a growing waitlist of more families hoping to enroll their kids.

It didn’t take long before we realized that the kids needed more than just a loving, nurturing environment. They were entering kindergarten without the necessary tools needed to succeed in school, so we became intentional about providing those tools. According to Camp Fire First Texas, school readiness is defined by five areas of child development:

Play time! On the playground, our kids learn to cooperate, engage creatively, and develop fine and gross motor skills.

Play time! On the playground, our kids learn to cooperate, engage creatively, and develop fine and gross motor skills.

  • Social/emotional
  • Language
  • Cognitive
  • Physical and technological
  • Motivation to learn

As Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “It is a happy talent to know how to play.” While we’re serious about preparing our youngest learners for success in school and in life through early literacy and social skills training, we’re also deeply invested in creative play time. Fred Rogers, the host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.” The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has included play as a criterion in its accreditation process for programs for young children. “They call it their work,” says Peter Pizzolongo, associate director for professional development at NAEYC. “When they’re learning and playing with joy, then it’s a positive experience. They develop a positive approach to learning.”  It is during play that our students develop gross and fine motor development, language skills, social development such as listening, negotiating and compromising, and self-concept/confidence.

The rewards of this intentional play is staggering. When measured against new students who enter our after school program as kindergarteners, the five-year olds who have grown up in our preschool program are easy to spot. They’re the ones who engage visitors in conversation, who know how to stand in line and wait their turn, who readily take out books to read, and who emerge as natural leaders.

The future class of 2029 celebrate their first graduation

The future class of 2029 celebrate their first graduation

This year, we launched a capital campaign to build four new preschool classrooms. This additional facility will meet licensure requirements, enabling us to operate full-time instead of two mornings per week. That means that when the newly expanded Fortress Early Learning Center opens, we’ll be able to release all 30 kids from our waiting list, increasing our enrollment from to almost 60, and that we’ll be allowed to operate 40 hours per week instead of 12. That’s a whopping TEN TIMES as many hours spent nurturing and educating our community’s youngest learners!

We still need $34,000 to wrap up the capital campaign. (We’ve raised more than $200,000 to date!) And when we open full-time, we’ll need sponsors to scholarship more precious preschoolers. Can you believe it only costs us $131.12 per month (or $1,573.44 per year) to provide full-time preschool for a Fortress student? For just $6.50 per day, each child enjoys breakfast, lunch, outdoor and indoor creative play, circle time, annual field trips to the zoo, supplies for play, learning and resting, and top-notch teachers who are passionate about early childhood education. What keeps the cost so low? Our volunteers. Our dedicated staff of weekly helpers makes it possible for us to offer preschool to a neighborhood who desperately needs it.

Please consider being a part of our preschool expansion. Please help us wrap up the capital campaign so we can ignite powerful change in the lives of even more hopeful little ones. And please consider EXPANDing our program by sponsoring a preschooler for a full-year for only $1,573.44 ($131.12 per month).

Our kids are counting on Fortress. Fortress is counting on you.