When her youngest son, Robby Ellis-Williams, was just 4 months old, Holly Ellis learned about a program that would benefit her child in the most unlikely ways.

Ellis, who resides in Lansford with her family, was walking through Redner's Warehouse Market in Nesquehoning with her son, when she was approached by Jeanne Miller, director of the Lehigh Carbon Community College's Carbon and Schuylkill counties educational services and the 21st Century Carbon and Schuylkill SHINE Afterschool Program, who told her about a new, free program available to parents, the Right From The Start program.

Ellis was intrigued by Miller's information and decided to enroll her son.

Through bi-weekly home visits and personalized testing, Robby has since discovered that learning is fun, and his parents have learned how to be stronger teachers in the home.

"The program is excellent," Holly said. "I loved it from the beginning. They instruct you on ways to help teach your child. You just assume you know what to do but there are so many ways that can help you more."

She noted that the team from Right From The Start identified that Robby, at the age of 2, had a speech delay.

Through various exercises, including games, reading and more, Holly proudly says that her son does not have that delay anymore.

Now, five years and 100 visits later, Robby, is in kindergarten at Our Lady of The Angels Academy in Lansford and is excited about his education.

What is Right From The Start?

The Right From The Start program uses the Parents As Teachers curriculum. It is a 48-week, year-round home-visiting program that aims at helping parents to become teachers in the home.

The Right From the Start program was developed through Carbon County Partners for Progress and the Carbon County Child and Family Collaborative and is administered through the Jim Thorpe Area School District.

According to the latest fact sheet on Right From the Start, "Certified parent educators conduct personal visits (throughout the year), using a curriculum with the latest neuroscience research findings, to offer practical ideas on ways to enhance parenting knowledge.

"The program focuses on helping parents better prepare their children for school, increase parental confidence, and promote the prevention of abuse and neglect."

Right From the Start offers assistance to families from prenatal through age 5, when the child can transition into the Kindergarten SHINE program.

Play groups and parent learning groups are also conducted throughout the year to give children opportunities to build their social skills and let parents discuss various topics, including sibling rivalry, toilet training, sleep patterns, disciplining and more.

Jennifer Colecio, a parent educator who was involved with the program since 2004 when her triplets were born and a home visitor for the Ellis-Williams family, summed up the program's goals.

"It's about parent knowledge," she said. "We are here to help the parents be the best parents they can be. We teach them how to use the resources in their own home, like walking their child up stairs, pretending pots and pans are a drum set and more."

Colecio added that the program works because it is home-based.

"The child feels more comfortable at home so they are more open to learning," she said, noting that before visits begin, the team does developmental screenings to identify any issues that should be addressed.

In the case of the Ellis family, after identifying Robby's speech delay, Colecio worked on finding ways for the parents to help the child progress. He was also referred for in-home speech services through Carbon County Early Intervention.

Colecio used reading and storytelling, as well as other types of activities to help Robby.

Does Right From The Start work?

Robby is just one of the many success stories in the Right From The Start program.

This past year, a total of 90 children and 60 families utilized the program.

Of that amount, 100 percent of the children with developmental delays were referred to Early Intervention programs; 100 percent of the enrolled pregnant women received early prenatal care; 100 percent of the 2-year-olds received immunization vaccinations; and 100 percent of the parents participated in parent education programs that were offered.

In addition to those figures, 1,030 home visits were conducted and 26 play groups gave families time to bond with other families.

Colecio can also vouch for the program's success through her own experiences.

"It's a great program," she said. "I was a family in the program first and when I saw the benefits it gave my family, I wanted to bring that to others. I especially liked the home visits."

She added that she enjoys being a home visitor because she can work with children and their parents to help develop the necessary skills for school.

"We use activities to foster learning that are geared toward language, intellect, social and emotional skills, and gross and fine motor skills," she explained. "Families set goals as well and are provided with information on other resources in the community," so that they can connect.

Ellis agreed with Colecio's thoughts, noting that Right From The Start has helped not only her son, but the whole family grow and become closer.

Other programs

available to children

Other early childhood programs have also successfully been partnered with the seamless network that Carbon County Partners for Progress and Child and Family Collaborative have created. They include PA Pre-K Counts and Pathstone Head Start, which are both funded through state grants.

PA Pre-K Counts is designed through the Pennsylvania Department of Education to help children from age 3 up to kindergarten, who are at risk of struggling with school and whose families earns up to 300 percent of the federal income poverty level.

The program focuses on preparing a child for school through half-day pre-kindergarten classes.

In Carbon County, two Pre-K Counts classrooms can be found in the Jim Thorpe Area School District and are open to Jim Thorpe area residents.

Pathstone Head Start is a program that provides family development services for children who are mature socially, emotionally, educationally, and nutritionally through full-day child care centers.

Children ages 6 weeks through 5 years are eligible for the program; as well as families who are currently pregnant, have a child with special needs; or have a foster child with high risk factors.

Income guidelines are set through the federal government for this program. For example, a family of four may not make more than $21,200 to be eligible for the Head Start program.

Head Start centers are located in Coaldale and Lehighton.

Want to become

a RFTS family?

Any family can become a Right From The Start family, Colecio noted, adding that the program is provided free to all families in Carbon County that have a child prenatally up to the age of 5.

Right From The Start also has no income guidelines.

To inquire about how to become a Right From The Start family, call the office, located in the Jim Thorpe Administration building at 410 Center Ave., at (570) 325-2771.