This is Arminta’s story

My journey with Strong Start begins the year all 4 of my children were in school full time, September 2013. I had spent the last 8 years as a full-time, stay at home mom and I knew I needed something to do outside of the home. I love to read and recognize its fundamental importance for all future learning. A teacher, Carolyn Sutton, at my children’s school recommended Strong Start’s Letter, Sounds, and WordsTM program to me as an activity I would enjoy and one that needed volunteers within the school. I was excited to do the training and work one-on-one with the children while having an opportunity to be present in my children’s school.

When I went to the training sessions and started learning more about the program, I was impressed first by the commitment of the funders and the community members at helping young children be successful in school. Lyle S. Hallman believed in helping the children in his community by making sure they were not behind in reading skills. This resonated with me and strengthened my passion for the program. It’s encouraging to be part of something that has such a passionate beginning. The other surprise for me was the high quality of the materials! Everything appeared professionally made and well organized for ease of use by Volunteer Coaches. I couldn’t wait to be paired with a child and play with the games and materials. I learned about the success of the program, backed by assessment statistics. I was encouraged by the numbers, knowing I was going to be involved in a program that does work.

After my first year as a Volunteer Coach, the Site Co-ordinator at Chalmers Public School asked if I would be willing to take over her job. I accepted, knowing I would receive all the help I needed to be successful in that role. I completed the Site Co-ordinator training, where I learned how to do pre-post assessments and use the on-line reporting program.

I have always wanted to be a teacher, ever since I was a little girl. I started university in Michigan at Alma College where I was enrolled in the Elementary Education Degree program and was doing the Early Childhood certification during spring terms. My life took a different direction when I moved to Canada to be closer to my fiancé. My teacher training got put on hold as I completed an English Degree and a Fine Arts Degrees at Wilfred Laurier University. At that time, I was unsure of the age group I wanted to work with. I worked in a child-care centre for a short time and then my husband and I started our family.

Over the next eight years, my focus was my family. Volunteering with Strong Start was crucial to solidifying my desire to work with younger children and subsequently encouraged me to enroll for the Early Childhood Educator Fast Track program at Conestoga College.  The early years of learning are so vital to success later in school. I want to help children get the best start possible. Through Strong Start’s programs, children who need it ARE getting that support. Statistics show that the programs are successful and volunteers will attest to the joy exhibited by children during the programs as well as the strides in learning that are made by each child.

Working one-on-one with a child during the Letters, Sounds, and Words activities is such a delight. Sometimes I would go to the classroom to gather the child for our time together and would find them in a frustrated mood. Often they still wanted to go with me and on our walk down the hall, I would engage the child in conversation, giving them the one-on-one attention they needed so they could be engaged in the learning that was about to take place.  I loved seeing the “a ha” moments, when information would suddenly click and they would remember. The pride they feel when they have mastered all the letter names and sounds is a wonderful sight, often causing me to do a “happy dance” for them.

During my time at Conestoga College, I did one of my co-op placements with Strong Start’s Get Ready for SchoolTM program. I knew this would be different than the Letters, Sounds and Words program for two reasons: first, I would work with preschool age children and second, I would work with a team. For my role in the Get Ready for School program, I was properly trained so I felt comfortable walking into the program and had an idea of what was going on. The preschool age group is so fun; full of energy and playfulness.

The program is well laid out to incorporate their natural curiosity, while giving them new tools and skills to help them be successful when they enter kindergarten. The materials are also wonderfully made and gathered with care, so that children want to touch and investigate them. I believe part of the beauty of the Get Ready for School program is the combination of large group, small group, free play and snack time. This allows children to get a sense of what a full school day might look like. As the children progress through the program, they come to rely on the predictability of what happens next. In small group, I love learning the knowledge children already possess and also being able to introduce them to new words and concepts. Their smiles are the best when they have learned something new.

In June, I will be moving with my family to the Goderich area. Currently the Strong Start programs are not in use in that region. I hope, though my daily interactions, volunteering within the children’s school and talking with colleagues, I can promote Strong Start as a valuable program that benefits children, their families and the community by building strong learners and readers who are engaged and strive to do their best.