Celebrating Evergreen Academy Preschool's 1st Year

Welcome to QC Enews Empowerment

We are always looking for ways to help our members, our staff, and the community at large. Sometimes all three goals dovetail into one program, and our Evergreen Academy Preschool is an excellent example of that.

Celebrating its first year as an official licensed preschool this month, Evergreen came out of QC Kids, the in-house program we started to help our staff members during the pandemic.

It soon became clear, however, that our in-house solution could also help our community. According to First Things First, child care was already scarce prior to the pandemic, with 48% of Arizonans living in “child care deserts.” Covid-19 only made that situation worse.

Evergreen has also been a boon to our members who are interested in working at preschools, giving them valuable experiences in the field they want to pursue.

We hope you enjoy this edition of Enews Empowerment.

– Armando Bernasconi,
Co-Founder and CEO

1st Anniversary for Evergreen Academy Preschool

On April 29, Evergreen Academy Preschool will celebrate one year since it opened to the public, providing young children from 6 weeks to 5 years of age with the experiences they need to become successful learners.

The seeds for this venture were actually sown before the pandemic – although COVID-19 certainly accelerated how fast it grew.

Originally, the project was the brainchild of Quality Connections’ Employment Services division, which helps individuals with disabilities become part of the workforce. Two of its members were interested in pursuing careers in childcare or working for a preschool, but were finding it hard to be placed.

Quality Connections got the grant to start their own in-house childcare program, which it called QC Kids,  in 2020 – just in time for the world to close down. 

“The pandemic hit, we had to close, and then when we reopened, schools and most of the area’s preschools were still closed,” said Kelly Arnold, who previously worked as the director of Employment Services before heading up the preschool. “It was the biggest barrier to people being able to come back to work.” 

QC Kids became a free service for Quality Connection employees, taking in both preschool age and older students while their parents were at work. Because the parents were on-site, the program did not have to go through extensive licensing of an outside preschool facility.

When Quality Connections re-applied for its grant, they were informed that the preschool at YMCA in Flagstaff had closed, and that facility was now available if they wanted to grow their program.

At the time, Kelly had been worried that Armando Bernasconi, the Co-founder and CEO of Quality Connections, might discontinue the program. Schools were reopening and the need for QC Kids wasn’t as dire.

“Instead, he told me I needed to get our license so we could open a formal preschool,” she remembered, and Evergreen Preschool Academy was born.

Once the preschool opened, it filled quickly and is now at full capacity with 90 students.

Only 3 months after opening, Evergreen received a 3-star rating from Quality First – a voluntary program committed to quality improvement beyond regulatory requirements – a big accomplishment for a brand new program, said Kelly.

Depending on their age, students spend part of their time in music and movement classes, learning about letters, and developing social-emotional skills, such as getting along with others and managing strong feelings. Then they work in smaller groups at stations that focus on things that can range from building blocks to art to science.

School is from 8:30 am to 4 pm, but for an additional fee, students can arrive as early as 6 am and stay until 6 pm.

Evergreen is also providing valuable work experience for Quality Connection members, who are trainees at the preschool. They provide assistance to the teachers with everything from setting up learning stations to helping children wash their hands.

“We make a point of rotating our trainees through all the classes and in the nursery, so they get to experience it all,” Kelly said.

Story of Success: Rachel

Rachel and Evergreen Academy Preschool Director Kelly Arnold.

“A magnet for children.”

That’s how Evergreen Academy Preschool Director Kelly Arnold describes Rachel, a Quality Connections member who also works as a trainee at the preschool, which is celebrating its first anniversary this month.

“They just flock to her,” Kelly said. “She’s fun, but she’s also a quiet and calm individual.”

Rachel’s love of working with small children comes from her big family, where she is often the one in charge of watching her many nieces and nephews. One of her great joys is working with babies, she says.

It was her interest in learning more about childcare that was one of the reasons Quality Connections started QC Kids, the precursor to Evergreen Academy Preschool. The in-house program primarily helped Quality Connections employees so they could return to work during the pandemic. 

When QC Kids evolved into Evergreen Academy Preschool, Rachel moved with the program, and now helps out assisting teachers and working with the schools 90 students.

“She says that one of her favorite things about her job is how it grew and how we became a school for even more children,” said Kelly.

We need Quality Connections . . . like you!

You can help individuals with disabilities become independent and productive members of our community. There are many way to be a ‘Quality Connection’ and get involved and all of them are important:

Every purchase from QC Office equals employment and job training opportunities for a person with disabilities.

Enable a person with disabilities to become a productive member of our community.

You’ll be doing good. Plus, you’ll get a dollar-for-dollar credit on your AZ state taxes (up to $800!)

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