A Judy Center comes to Somerset County

Until this past summer, Somerset County Public Schools remained the last county in the state without a Judy Center. This has all changed and a new Judy Center is opening Dec. 3 at Princess Anne Elementary School.

Sadly, 35% of the children (under age 18 in Somerset County) live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level and in the Princess Anne area, and 77% of families qualify for free and reduced meals (FARMS). It is not uncommon to hear about the high level of poverty in Somerset County but there is a lot more to Somerset beyond its state poverty ranking.

Obtaining a Judy Center marks a turning point for the county and shows a new commitment to early learning. Last year, Dr. John Gaddis joined the county as the new superintendent and getting a Judy Center was one of his priorities. In addition, the county created a new Early Childhood Coordinator position and worked to add new full day pre-kindergarten programs for families in both the northern and southern end of the county.

The county also worked to provide meals for all students through the federal Community Eligibility Provision, an initiative through the U.S. Department of Agriculture that serves nutritious school meals free to all students.

The new Judy Center is just in the beginning phase but we’re already busy working. Recently, parents were introduced to the Judy Center concept at Princess Anne Elementary School’s open house where parents and children came to meet their new teachers and begin their new school year.

Beginning a brand new Judy Center Partnership can be daunting but this task was easier than one might imagine in Somerset County. When MSDE set-up the Early Learning Advisory Councils (as part of the RTT funding) in each county, many looked to their Judy Center steering committees for support. This was all very new for Somerset County. Instead, in Somerset County, we used the strength of our newly formed Somerset Early Learning Advisory Council (SELAC) to help create our Judy Center Partnership. This group includes all the movers and shakers in our local early childhood community and it really helped to make the Judy Center become a reality.

Partner programs are now on board and by collaborating with others, the Judy Center plans to expand services to children and families (0-5) in the Princess Anne catchment area.

— Ms. Karten is coordinator of early childhood education for Somerset County Public Schools.

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