CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Parents, other relatives and caregivers are the first teachers of West Virginia’s kids.

To support their early education efforts in parts of the Mountain State long before children head to school, lessons on how to incorporate learning into everyday activities are expanding into more West Virginia schools through the United Way Born Learning Academies.

Submitted photo

Members of a family in Mason County read together as part of a United Way Born Learning Academy at Leon Elementary School.

“Parents must be the leaders of this early preparation but, unfortunately, there are no required courses for new parents in West Virginia on just how to perform this important role. That is where the Born Learning Academies come in,” said Lloyd Jackson, state Board of Education vice president.

The United Way Born Learning Academies are the results of a partnership between the United Way, The Education Allliance, the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation and Toyota.

After launching the program in six West Virginia schools in 2014, Toyota is giving another $52,000 in grant money to bring United Way Board Learning Academies to seven additional schools in the Mountain State. Toyota’s total investment now stands at $130,500.

A $38,200 grant from The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation is also aiding the expansion.

“It’s program that promises to impact the community for years to come,” said Millie Marshall, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia during a Thursday event at the State Capitol.

The new United Way Born Learning Academies are the following:

Brookview Elementary School in Boone County
Hamlin PK-8 School in Lincoln County
Edgewood Elementary School in Kanawha County
New Manchester Elementary School in Hancock County
Hometown Elementary School in Putnam County
Blackshere Elementary School in Marion County
Cranberry-Prosperity Elementary School in Raleigh County

Those locations join the following existing United Way Born Learning Academies:

Leon Elementary School in Mason County
Aurora Elementary School in Preston County
Poca Elementary School in Putnam County
Highlawn Elementary School in Cabell County
Buffalo Elementary School in Putnam County
East Lynn Elementary School in Wayne County

The contact information to sign up for a Born Learning Academy at one of the participating schools is available here.

Free to families, the academies include six monthly workshops for parents and caregivers of young children, from birth to five years of age. The workshops are designed to complement pre-kindergarten programming.

“We all want the best for our kids. What Born Learning teaches us is that we don’t have to wait for special events to happen,” Marshall said. “We can use everyday moments as learning opportunities and, given the tools, we can make it fun and teach our children without them even knowing we’re teaching them.”

Toyota’s first Born Learning Academies were established in Beechgrove, Ky. in 2010.

The students who initially participated there are now in the 5th, 6th and 7th grades and, according to Marshall, 92 percent of those students tested as “proficient,” “distinguished” or “growth” on state performance assessments.

Those are the kinds of student achievement improvements Dionne Lucas, pre-kindergarten coordinator for Lincoln County, said she’s hoping for out of Lincoln County’s new Born Learning Academy.

“It’s going impact parents. It’s going to impact children for their entire lives, so we’re just very excited for this,” she said.

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