Clayton Early Learning

Play and Learn: A Unique Approach to School Readiness

Posted by Molly Yost


Molly Yost

Peter Blank, of the Clayton Early Learning Social Media Team, sat down with Clayton Institute Play and Learn facilitators, Anitra Cortez, Josefina Gutierrez, and Patty Hernandez, to learn more about this exciting project and how it works to promote early childhood development with parents and children birth to three.

Social Media Team (SM): To start, can you give us a brief overview of Play and Learn?

Play and Learn facilitators (PL): Play and Learn is a free program for families with children birth to three that consists of adult-child activity sessions, which meet twice a week to focus on themes in early childhood development.

SM: How many different program groups exist? And where are they found?

PL: There are six groups overall. Clayton Early Learning facilitates four different Play and Learn groups and our collaborating partner, Mile High Montessori, helps to facilitate two more.  The groups meet at our main campus in the Institute (3993 Martin Luther King Blvd.), our school at Far Northeast (4800 Telluride St), City of God Church in Southwest Denver (5255 W. Warren Ave), Quigg Newton Homes (4558 Navajo St) and the Mile High Montessori centers in Lowry (957 Ulster Way) and Northeast (3503 Marion St).

SM: Wow, you guys sure are busy. What does a typical activity session look like?

PL:  Each session is two hours long and has a set schedule. The schedule for the sessions includes free play, group time with music and movement, parent/child reading, outdoor play, snack and more.  Although these schedules are the same for each group, every activity and session can vary based on the interest and needs of the children.  Also, information from the sessions is expanded during monthly parent meetings focusing on specific child development and parenting topics.

SM: You cover a lot of material in just two hours! What are some of the goals during these sessions and for Play and Learn overall?

PL: The primary goal of Play and Learn is to prepare children and families for school success. We do this by increasing access to early childhood development information and linking our participants to the school community and other community resources.  We’ve also seen that a high percentage of participating families enroll their children in high quality preschool programs in the year before Kindergarten.

SM: Sounds like a great way to address school readiness.  When did this program start?

PL: Clayton first received funding for three initial groups to begin during the 2010-2011 school year, so we are entering our 5th year.  Over the years we have been able to add three more Play and Learn groups with the help of collaborating partners and more funding.

SM: Happy 5 year anniversary!Josefina, you started as a Play and Learn participant and now facilitate the group at Quigg Newton.  Can you share with us how you got there?

JG: I started bringing my daughter to the new Play and Learn group at Quigg Newton and after a few months a position opened up for facilitator of that group.  I have over 15 years of experience working in early childhood education with groups like AmeriCorps and Catholic Charities and have both my group leader and director certifications. When the position opened up, I decided to apply.

SM: I’m glad you can continue using your professional experience in Early Childhood Education to help facilitate this great program.  I have a few more questions before we finish.  First,can anyone join a Play and Learn group? And second, how can you get more information about openings and joining a group?

PL: Our target population is low-income families of children 0-3 who either can’t access or choose not to enroll their children in formal early childhood education programs.  If you want more information on how to enroll or if you are eligible you can call Patty Hernandez at 303-398-8566.

SM: That’s all the questions we have for now.  Thank you all for your hard work and taking the time to share more about Play and Learn!

Do you have or care for a child birth to three years old? Our Play and Learn groups have openings and could be right for you! Call Patty for more information and to find the group nearest you – 303-398-8566.

Do you have or care for a child birth to three years old? Our Play and Learn groups have openings and could be right for you! Call Patty for more information and to find the group nearest you – 303-398-8566.


Colorado Lawmakers Get Savvy on Two Gen

Posted by Molly Yost


Molly Yost

The term “two-generation” was mentioned a lot throughout hearings on several child care-related bills during the 2014 Colorado legislative session, which started in January and concluded May 7th. While some legislators asked, “what does two-generation mean?” more often the message was that high-quality, affordable child care is one of the most effective ways to promote family self-sufficiency and equally important, foster school readiness for children. In 2014, lawmakers put their money where their mouths are by passing a suite of significant child care reform bills and budget items totaling $21.7 million that will go far to advance two-generation efforts in the state.

In Colorado, 247,000 children under the age of six (62% of all children in this age group) live in families where all available parents work. Access to high-quality, affordable child care is necessary to keep our economy moving and to ensure more Colorado kids are prepared for success in kindergarten and beyond. Yet the cost of full-time licensed child care for infants and toddlers has reached as high as $14,000 per year – a cost more expensive than in-state tuition at many of Colorado’s postsecondary institutions. Child care that supports parents’ successful connection to the workforce and helps prepare children for school is simply unaffordable for far too many working families in our state.

In recent years, the state median income has declined, and the Great Recession has reduced family incomes: more than 1 in 5 Colorado children under the age of 6 lives in poverty. The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) is one of the only ways the state helps low-income parents who are working, in school or job training, or searching for a job overcome the high cost of care. However, we have seen state and federal support for affordable child care via CCCAP decline by 17 percent over the past 5 years. This lack of investment has been compounded by red tape that makes the program difficult to administer and for families to navigate.

A set of bills with a two-generation lens aimed at ensuring more affordable child care for more low-income working families has made its way through the Colorado legislature with bipartisan support. These bills reflect a set of ideas discussed by a collaborative of child and anti-poverty advocates, parents, researchers, Head Start, child care providers, county human services directors, county commissioners, business leaders, the Colorado Department of Human Services, and early childhood councils to improve child care in Colorado. Some highlights of these two-generation bills include:

  • HB14-1317: This bill makes significant changes to CCCAP in order to help parents find and retain high-quality and affordable child care, support families in climbing the ladder to prosperity, and cut red tape for small business child care providers who want to serve working families.
  • HB14-1072: This legislation would create a new state child care expenses tax credit that ensures those earning less than $25,000 are able to claim a credit, which includes the CCCAP parent copayment.
  • SB14-003: This bill creates a pilot program to address the “cliff effect” that occurs when working parents in CCCAP receive a minor increase in income that makes them ineligible for child care assistance, yet their income is not enough to cover the full cost of care.

Overall, it’s about supporting adults and children together. We are confident that these common-sense changes and investments will enable, not inhibit, two-generation goals so hardworking parents like Shantiara Fite, whose child attends the Educare School at Clayton Early Learning in Denver, can make a better life for herself and her children. “The system should be structured in a way that allows me to go to school and engage in activities that benefit me and my family in the long run,” says Shantiara. “At the end of the day, without this, my kids would not be able to go to a high-quality program. I will do whatever I need to do to ensure they are in a program like this."

This blog was originally featured by Ascend at the Aspen Institute. For more information on breakthrough ideas and collaborations that move children and their parents toward educational success and economic security, visit

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Ducks on Bikes and New Investments in Early Childhood

Posted by Molly Yost


Molly Yost

1duckonbikeState leaders in search of some light reading are picking-up Duck on a Bike and putting down the bills as Colorado’s 2013 legislative session comes to a close. This past week more than 70,000 copies of the children’s book made their way into the hands of youngsters across the state as part of One Book 4 Colorado – a collaborative initiative between the Lt. Governor’s Office, Serve Colorado, the Denver Preschool Program, Reach out and Read Colorado, public libraries, and the business and philanthropic community. This is just one of several efforts geared towards raising public awareness about the importance of early literacy and the impact high quality early childhood education has on future academic achievement. In tandem with the week’s events was the release of the Colorado Reads 2013: The Early Literacy Initiative report. This comprehensive blueprint outlines the state’s progress and a path forward to ensure more children are reading at grade level by third grade.

Capping-off the excitement were a number of landmark measures aimed at strengthening the state’s birth to eight policy agenda by increasing access, quality, and coordination of early childhood programs. Here are some of the highlights from the 2013 legislative session:

  • SB13-213: Dubbed “the Future School Finance Act,” this bill will modernize Colorado’s education financing system with an unprecedented focus on expanding access to high quality early childhood education, pending the passage of a statewide ballot initiative to approve requisite funding. The legislation would remove the cap of the number of slots available for the Colorado Preschool Program (current cap is 20,160 slots), allowing all at-risk 3- and 4-year olds to participate. In addition, the bill would increase access to full-day Kindergarten for families wishing to attend.
  • SB13-260: Funding will be provided to increase enrollment in the Colorado Preschool Program by 3,200 slots through the state’s 2013-2014 School Finance Act. Districts can also choose to use the money for full-day kindergarten. The original version of the bill included the Expanding Quality Incentive Program (EQUIP), which would have created a $5 million grant program to support school districts seeking quality ratings for their preschool programs and also to improve program quality. EQUIP was stripped from the bill on the Senate floor.
  • HB13-1117: “The Alignment of Early Childhood and Development Programs” strengthens Colorado’s newly-established Office of Early Childhood by moving additional early childhood programs from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment into the CDHS. Governor Hickenlooper and Executive Director of Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), Reggie Bicha, announced the creation of the Office of Early Childhood last summer. The office seeks to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of program delivery and administration by co-locating several early childhood programs within the CDHS. The legislation also reauthorized the Early Childhood Leadership Commission, Colorado’s Early Childhood State Advisory Council.
  • HB13-1291: This legislation creates the Colorado Infant and Toddler Quality and Availability Grant Program within CDHS. The $3 million grant program encourages local early childhood councils and county departments of human services to partner to increase the quality and availability of care for programs serving infants and toddlers through the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP).  The grant program offers local communities the flexibility to implement plans by providing quality ratings to non-rated participating classrooms, quality improvement grants, higher reimbursement rates to programs rated in the top two levels of Colorado’s quality rating and improvement system, and fostering parental involvement.

With the support of Governor Hickenlooper and Lt. Governor Garcia, early childhood education emerged as a top priority this session. This year’s budget reflects significant investments not only in ECE, but an increase of $4.5 million in state funding for Early Intervention Colorado and an $800,000 increase in the Nurse Home Visitor Program to expand direct services to six additional counties in northeast Colorado.  Spring seems to be blooming with good news for Colorado children and families!


Examining House Bill 13-1117 and its Journey through the Colorado General Assembly.

Posted by Molly Yost


Molly Yost

Policymaking occurs on several different levels – at the federal, state, and local level. What is policy and why does it matter to us? Policy is a course of action, selected from alternatives which guides and determines decisions and practices. Policy may refer to action of governments and of public and/or private organizations. This post will explore a significant piece of early childhood policy and the process by which it makes its way through the Colorado General Assembly.

“There are two things you don’t want to see being made – sausage and legislation.” Attributed to German Chancellor Otto von Bismark (1815-1898), this timeless comparison of sausage making and lawmaking has endured for centuries. John A. Straayer offered this description of our very own state legislature in his book, The Colorado General Assembly: a venue in which “a score of basketball games are progressing, all at one time, on the same floor, with games at different stages, with participants playing on several teams at once, switching at will, opposing each other in some instances and acting as teammates in others.” Casinos, marketplaces, and zoos are also metaphorical favorites when expounding the chaotic and awesome nature of legislatures.

All bills, in accordance with state statute, follow a common format. Bills are assigned a number, a title, and a sponsor. HB13-1117 indicates that the bill was the 117th bill introduced in the House (all House bills are numbered from 1001) in the year 2013. HB13-1117, sponsored by Representative Hamner and Senators Hodge and Newell, was introduced earlier in the session and assigned to the Public Health Care and Human Services Committee (committee of reference) by the Speaker of the House. This introduction is commonly known as the bill’s “first reading.” In Committee, the bill is presented by a sponsor and its details are carefully scrutinized. Research, testimony, and studies on the bills fiscal impact are reviewed and discussed by committee members. From here, committee members can amend the bill, refer it to another committee, postpone indefinitely (also known has “killing” a bill), or lay it over for consideration later in the legislative session.

400px-Visualization-of-How-a-Bill-Becomes-a-Law_Mike-WIRTHSo what are the ingredients in the bill? HB13-1117 has two major components. The first component of the bill is the transfer of several programs from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to the Department of Human Services in order to promote greater alignment and increase the efficiency of program administration, policies, and procedures to better serve children and families. As you may know, there are several different programs serving children and families spread across several different state agencies. The result is a very fragmented system that is often difficult for families to navigate. The following programs will be relocated from CDPHE to CDHS to enhance coordination and collaboration at the state and local level:

• the Nurse Home Visitation Program;
• the Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program including the Colorado Student Dropout Prevention and Intervention Program and the Colorado Before-and-After School Project;
• the Colorado Children's Trust Fund and its board; and
• the Family Resource Center Program.

The second component reauthorizes the Early Childhood Leadership Commission (Colorado’s Early Childhood State Advisory Council) until 2018 and relocates it from the Lieutenant Governor’s Office to the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) Division of Boards and Commissions. This commission, comprised of state agency representatives, business leaders, providers, and parents, will be responsible for making recommendations and advising further alignment of early childhood programs and funding streams.

After discussion and testimony, HB13-1117 was slightly amended (or altered) and successfully “passed out” of the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee. After making its way through the House, the bill was sent to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services where it passed with bi-partisan support (6-1). Next stop: the Senate Appropriations Committee.

If you would like to read HB13-1117, view voting history, or find other information about the Colorado legislature, visit:

“How Our Laws Are Made” infographic by Mike Wirth and Dr. Suzanne Cooper-Guasco for Sunlight Foundation “Design for America Competition” 2010, sources: “How Our Laws Are Made” by John V. Sullivan (Rev. 6.24.07 and What is a Lobbyist? - wiseGEEK and Reconciliation in the Senate - Brookings Institution. See full-size image at, Learn more at: