Tag Archives: preschool

A Commitment to Youth: Storyteller Children’s Center Withstood the Pandemic

Santa Barbara has been all awash with talk about the reopening of public schools ever since the pandemic shut them down last spring. Parents of school-age children have had different desires and needs in this area as the situation and responses including various methods of remote learning shifted, with some schools reopening earlier than others, amid different ways of coping with the coronavirus crisis. 

Somewhere in that mix it seems incumbent to note that Storyteller Children’s Center has been running its programs since last summer. In fact, July 13 marks the one-year anniversary since Storyteller returned to in-person schooling, fulfilling its ongoing purpose of serving as a therapeutic preschool providing high-quality early childhood education for the county’s most vulnerable children — those from Santa Barbara’s poorest or homeless families — as well as providing comprehensive support services for their caregivers and families. 

It’s all in service of helping the youngsters start school emotionally and socially ready to learn, with the coping skills and impulse control that allow them to grow and prosper into well-educated, well-adjusted adults and thriving members of the community. The pandemic wasn’t going to get in the way of that purpose.

“We had to completely reconfigure our classrooms so we could spend 95 percent of the day outdoors,” explained executive director Susan Cass, who arrived at her position only last August, five months after COVID closed things down in March 2020, and jumped right into the fray supported by her predecessor, Donna Barranco Fisher.

“The families couldn’t be on site, which was heartbreaking, and just had to drop their kids off at the gate,” Cass continued. “We had to stay on top of all the protocols… We’ve been resilient and we made it through, but the fact is that this was a much more challenging and difficult year for our families than it was for us.”

That’s why it became such a mission to make Storyteller available again as soon as possible last summer, she said.

“The way I saw it was for a lot of our children, this was their respite from some of the stress and trauma they might be experiencing at home. It was a place where they could continue to play and laugh, and just be children and feel safe. Storyteller needed to be open for these families,” Cass explained.

Storyteller Children’s Center was able to function during the pandemic by taking the bulk of its classes outdoors

Now that regulations are easing, with more opportunity expected as the new school year starts in August, Cass is eagerly anticipating a return to the old normal when both family members and volunteers — who were also banned due to licensing regulations for more than a year — can be on site once again.

“What I’m really looking forward to is welcoming the families back onto campus,” said Cass, a Santa Barbara native who graduated from Cate School and spent time in Texas and Oregon before returning to town to serve as program director at Jodi House Brain Injury Support Center and as Braille Institute’s ED before coming to Storyteller.

“They’re such a huge part of this place and the work that we do. I’m excited about getting to know all of the families — the new ones, returning ones. Our volunteers are also a huge part of our Storyteller family and are such an integral part of making our programs happen every day.  We haven’t seen them for a year, and we’ve missed them. If all goes to plan with COVID it will be like a homecoming for everybody. As for me as the new director, I’m excited for the opportunity to get to know people who’ve been a part of this amazing organization long before I came on.”

The Storyteller vision extends into the future, as the organization — which serves a total of 70-80 preschoolers on its two downtown campuses — doesn’t sever relationships when the children go on to kindergarten.

“We are continuing to look into ways to stay connected with our children after graduation. That’s a big part of expanding our family resource services,” Cass said. “The emphasis moving forward obviously continues to be providing a safe and supportive learning environment for the children, but also looking at enhancing and expanding our connection and relationships with the families, not just in their time at Storyteller, but for years to come.”

It all adds to the mission of laying the early education groundwork for success, not only for the children, but also their families, and, by extension, the larger community that benefits from the results. Storyteller can certainly use support and it strives toward that goal. Opportunities include everything from sponsoring a child at a cost of about $15,000, to providing tools, crafts, other items or smaller cash donations to keep the programs going and building for the betterment of the young children, and all of Santa Barbara society.

Storyteller Children’s Center
WHERE: 2115 State Street and 2121 De la Vina Street
CONTACT: (805) 682-9585 
or www.storytellercenter.org

TO HELP: For donations, contact Director of Development Adrienne De Guevara at adrienne@storytellercenter.org.

We Are Family

In the 1960s, the Perry Preschool in Ypsilanti, Michigan laid the groundwork for our understanding of the value of early education. 

A sample of 58 low-income students received high quality preschool, while a control group of an additional 63 had none. Researchers then followed those children until age 40. On all measures – high school graduation, income, arrest rates – the adults that had high quality preschool did better. The return was a jaw-dropping $16 for every dollar invested. 

So what does Ypsilanti have to do with Santa Barbara? Well, the latter is home to Storyteller Children’s Center, a therapeutic preschool that provides high-quality early childhood education for homeless and at-risk children and comprehensive support services for their families. 

Founded in 1988, the school serves 80 children and their families a year. Storyteller’s recently appointed executive director, Susan Cass, sees the center’s work as “critical to breaking the cycle of poverty in Santa Barbara.” 

“This marginalized population that we serve is a large portion of our county,” Cass says, an allusion to Santa Barbara’s ignominious distinction of having the third highest poverty rate in California. “There are a lot of people in our community struggling without alternatives for childcare. Storyteller provides these families with the support they need to address and overcome their challenges so they can build a better life for themselves and their children.”

Storyteller’s teachers and staff receive double the amount of required training for early childhood educators and are committed to ensuring that children and their families have the tools and resources they need to thrive. Whether it be through mental health support services offered in partnership with CALM and Casa Pacifica, monthly parent meetings, or bi-annual home visits, the children’s center is focused on much more than the child alone. “We are a whole family service,” Cass says. 

One desperately needed in Santa Barbara. A 2017 countywide needs assessment conducted found that more than 35,000 children were in need of early education and childcare, while the number of available slots stood at just under 18,000, after tumbling by more than 1,200 in the preceding decade. For the working poor, whom Storyteller serves, the need is even more acute. 

Cass envisions a future where she and her team can devote more energy to improving the lives of the entire families, which she knows – and research shows – will have a powerful ripple effect in our community, only making it stronger with each passing year.