Amy Bladek pauses in the Benton Hall Academy Library during one of her first days on the job as the United Way’s Family School Navigator.

by Dave Warner

Amy Bladek has started her new job in the Little Falls School District as United Way’s Family School Navigator. The program is a Ready for Kindergarten (R4K) initiative, where people with Bladek’s skills are embedded in the elementary school to work with children ages birth to 12 and their families.

Bladek has a B.A. in Human Development with a concentration in Family Studies and is no stranger to the students of Benton Hall, where she had previously served as a substitute teacher for K-5.

Bladek says that the United Way has embedded people like her in several school districts across Herkimer and Onida Counties. “I have a couple of different roles, but my main one is to get children ready for kindergarten,” she said.

She partners with the administration, teachers, and families to see how she can help give students the skills that are necessary for them to be successful once they start school.

Because her job can encompass the whole family, it can get pretty interesting. “Some days I could be in the actual school district in Benton Hall working with older children helping the family with different community resources to make sure that family is stable.”

She also is charged with working from birth to four-year-olds, and on other days, “Maybe it’s just making sure that they’re hitting their milestones. If it’s a baby, it could be making sure that they’re sitting up, or speaking a certain number of words. Hitting those milestones that they should be to make sure they’re on the right track for promoting learning,” she said.

One of Bladek’s most important jobs is to make a connection between families and the school. “I’m working with a lot of them before they get into kindergarten, making sure that the parents are comfortable and have an on-going relationship with the school. When those children graduate to 5th and 6th grade, they’ll still know they have that community to back them up,” she stated.

On some days, she could get a phone call from a teacher saying that there is a family that doesn’t have any food in their house. “In a case like that, I might contact Little Falls Community Outreach to see if they can help via their backpack program,” Bladek stated.

“There are so many awesome programs in Little Falls, we just want to make sure as a community, that we are taking care of our own. I’m just one more member to help take care of that family.”

The program currently is funded for three years, and they are intending to collect a lot of data during that time-frame to help guide where it will go after that. “I know we’re going to have a positive impact on Little Falls,” she said.

District Superintendent Dr. Keith Levatino stated, “At that point, we’d have to look at the data and decide whether we should take on the position permanently at the district’s cost. The good news is, that we have three years to asses and possibly budget for the continuation of the program.”

Principal Joe Long seems to think that it’s something they really need. “There’s a lot of kids out there that we don’t even know of and this way we get a head start from when they’re born and we don’t have to wait until they are four, five or even six years old. That’s really important because it allows us to get ahead of the game, instead of playing catch up.”

How will the school know when there is a new birth in the community? “We already have a lot of ways to know that information. Siblings are one way, and teachers are good at knowing what is happening with their kids. I’ve also been reaching out to the public library because they have their own storytime and they do a lot of activities after school,” Bladek said.

She’s also talking to community members and other organizations in Little Falls to get a heads-up on children that might need her services, but word of mouth about what she is doing has traveled fast. “People come up to me and say, I need you. Can you help me with these things?”

“We’re really excited about this because our curriculum is built on what I call the staircase of complexity. Each grade level is a guaranteed and viable curriculum, but it’s built on a staircase. 1st to 2nd, 2nd, to 3rd, etc. They have to have that foundation to be successful, so the key is to prepare them really well in kindergarten,” said Levatino.

“But, I feel bad for kindergarten because they don’t have those stairs prior to that. We have the pre-school program and we try to partner with them, but they’re not part of the school district, so their staff isn’t part of our professional development and not part of the new gen-ed standards,” he said.

“Amy will bring to us a better understanding of what the kids coming to kindergarten need. That’s half the battle,” Levatino stated. “It’s my hope that this will lead to better success in Kindergarten so those teachers can start right off academically and socially helping them towards that staircase.”

Long stated, “I’m just happy because our kids deserve a shot and now they’re getting that, right from day one. I’m so proud of my home town. We don’t let things slide and we never have. At the end of three years, the administration, our teachers and the community – they will not let a good thing go away. I have the utmost faith in that.”

“This young lady is doing a fantastic job. She’s bringing a breath of fresh energy to this, and if I see that, the families will too, and that’s the key,” stated Levatino.

R4K FSN Intro Flyer - Little Falls Amy