September 5, 2023

Mission Moment – ECEAP


ECEAP (pronounced e-cap) stands for Early Childhood Education Assistant Program. At its core, ECEAP is free preschool for qualifying families, focusing on kindergarten readiness. YWCA Spokane’s ECEAP does more than prepare kids for school; it teaches important life skills and wraps the entire family in holistic care. “We’re not just getting them kindergarten ready, we’re getting them socially and emotionally ready for life,” says Ryan Simmons, Family Support Staff.

“We really strive to become a safe person and place for these families,” adds Lauren Lepinski, Lead Teacher. “On top of providing that foundational education for the child, we focus on helping mom with transportation issues, maybe sister needs a new coat for school, maybe they need to be referred to a doctor’s office and they don’t know where to start. It’s a holistic outlook. We’re helping everybody, not just the kids.”

We know that supporting parents, caregivers, and the entire family helps create an environment that sets children up for success in kindergarten and beyond.

Our Approach

Empowerment and trauma-informed care is woven throughout every program and service at YWCA Spokane. In our classroom, this can look like validating the children’s emotions. “Teaching those emotional intelligence skills is trauma-informed because that’s what is going to break the cycle of violence,” states Lauren.

Ryan works more closely with the adults in the children’s lives. For him, trauma-informed care also looks like knowing when to pause a conversation and resume it later. Ryan’s work involves heavy, honest conversations about what the family is navigating. “I have to recognize that they’re in trauma and they’re unable to hear it at that time. And me just telling them isn’t helpful, I have to be patient.” Our ECEAP families face complex barriers and juggle responsibilities. Families ultimately are the ones who set the goals for themselves and for their children, with guidance from our staff. Our staff is not here to judge families or pick them apart, but to honor the uniqueness and strengths of everyone in the family. A trauma-informed approach means we take the time to sit down with our families and explore how we can best support them holistically.

“We really strive to meet people where they’re at versus trying to drag them up to where we think they need to be,” says Lauren. Staff model kindness and patience in all of the interactions as they work to empower families. Together, Lauren, Ryan, and classroom support staff offer the entire family unit care and encouragement.

Impact of ECEAP

Last school year, 1,773 children and their families engaged in early care and preschool programs. The children and families who come through our ECEAP are met with unwavering support and encouragement, providing everyone in the family with a foundation of skills and knowledge to build on for their next chapter.

There is such a true and genuine level of care the ECEAP staff show their families and students. Ryan Simmons says his goal for the families he works with is self-sufficiency, teaching them skills and tools they can pass on that will impact generations to come. “We’re teaching Littles to become amazing Bigs and we’re teaching Bigs how to be even better Bigs,” says Ryan. In 2018, Ryan was presented the Champion for Children Award, which comes from nominations by parents to the state.

Ryan, Lauren, and the rest of our ECEAP staff build real connections with the children and families they serve. Proof of this comes in the form of abundant letters, notes, and cards our staff receive from families.

One parent shared in a letter that Ryan is their child’s favorite person. “Thank you for being the only one to stay and not give up,” shares the parent. “We appreciate and love you like our own family.”

We’re building a community within the classroom and a support network for all of our families.

“I wish every child was able to experience your program and every family to receive the unlimited support!” said another ECEAP Parent.

These thank you letters serve as testimony to the wonderful work our ECEAP teachers and staff do every day.

Our Classroom

Our ECEAP uses a School Family model, which is a community-minded approach that highlights the importance of working together. The school family includes all the students, teaching staff, families, and siblings. Within the classroom, each child has a job that rotates weekly. They take pride in their classroom and eagerly await their turn for such coveted jobs like calendar and fish feeder. This model helps teach the children responsibility and broaden their awareness of each other and the larger school family.

Lauren’s classroom has recently been remodeled and refreshed for the school year. Her classroom features a full kitchen, a play kitchen for the children, areas dedicated to science, sensory exploration, math, & art, library center & group time carpet, building zone, and a safe place coupled with the fish tank to learn and practice self-calming skills. Each zone is intentionally set up and designed with special awareness and learning in mind. “There’s a lot to consider!” exclaims Lauren, “There are whole documents that guide this. There’s research behind what we’re doing. All of our curriculum, practices, and standards are research-based. We are professional folks who are presenting a learning environment.”

How ECEAP Works

The Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families runs a quality rating system known as Early Achievers, which sets the standard for best practice and can directly impact a program’s funding. ECEAP is part of Early Achievers and our classrooms receive an assessment every three years. This rating structure captures the high-quality work that goes on in our ECEAP classrooms.

The program serves eligible children and families primarily based on the state median income (SMI) to ensure kiddos from all economic backgrounds have access to quality education. For example, a family of two (one parent and one child) would be earning just over $28,000 a year at 36% SMI. Other factors like environmental and developmental considerations may also factor into a child’s eligibility for the program. Our ECEAP addresses the needs of the whole child within the family to promote sustainable, long-term success with school and life.

Learn More

By: Jemma Riedel-Johnson

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