Smart Beginnings NRV is hiring new AmeriCorps Members

Apply Today!!

July 2015

Smart Beginnings New River Valley is a coalition of business, nonprofit, and government leaders working for wise investments in early childhood development. We have partnered with the VT Engage AmeriCorps Network for the past year and are excited to announce that we will continue this partnership in the fall.

We are hiring 12 new AmeriCorps Members who will work with us for an entire year, beginning in early September. Each of these 12 AmeriCorps Members will be Family Literacy Resource Specialists who will:

  • Work with local child care centers
  • Coordinate Reading Hour- a volunteer reading mentor program
  • Provide additional literacy support to child care centers and families
  • Participate in professional development opportunities within Smart Beginnings and the VT Engage AmeriCorps Network

2 positions will be 675-hour positions (~13 hours/week for 52 weeks). They will be responsible for coordinating programming in either Pulaski or Giles County. They will receive:

  • $2,150 AmeriCorps Education Award after completion of their term. The AmeriCorps Education Award can be transferred to family members.
  • $281/month as a volunteer stipend during their year of service.

10 positions will be 300-hour positions (~6 hours/week for 52 weeks, or ~10 hours/week for 32 weeks). They will be responsible for coordinating programming at one or more childcare centers in Montgomery, Radford or Floyd. They will receive:

  • $1,195 AmeriCorps Education Award after the completion of their term.
  • $100/month as a volunteer stipend during their year of service.

How will you benefit?

As an AmeriCorps Member, you will:

  • Improve the lives of children
  • Have a positive impact on your community
  • Give hope and support to those in need
  • Encourage those around you to give back to the world around them
  • Receive support from Smart Beginnings NRV and VT Engage

Apply Today!!

Find more information, FAQs, and or to apply visit the VT Engage AmeriCorps webpage. Please contact Mary Beth Wisniewski at with questions.


4-year-olds needed for study on children's ability to control their actions

Forwarded from: Virginia Tech Psychology Department

The C.A.P. Lab in the Psychology Department is conducting a new study focusing on children’s developing ability to control their actions during card games. During this visit, they will play some fun word and memory games. In addition to these games, they are interested in collecting information about the physiological components of these abilities.

The visit should last about one to two hours. They are looking for 4-year-old children. They offer a $10 Target gift card as compensation for parents and a toy for children, and we can provide childcare for siblings. If you are interested in this study, you may contact Alleyne Ross by phone at 540-231-2320 or email


The Changing Cost of Education When Raising a Child

One of these lines is not like the others


Building a Child’s Brain: A Parent’s Privilege

Parents are the most important and enduring influence in the lives of children. Excellent parenting does not demand perfection—but does require loving involvement and sensitive interaction, responsive to the unique nature of each child. Researchers in neuroscience now realize “brains are not born, but built.” Unlike most other organs, the brain is not complete at birth! Although the brain cells are all in place, the “wiring” of the brain is not fully formed, but emerges over time through stimulation in the context of nurturing relationships, with the most rapid explosion in synaptic connections between cells occurring in the first few years of life. This period builds either a sturdy or a weak foundation for all learning that follows.

Scientists stress several things: (1) Both nature and nurture are involved in brain development. (2) The care a child receives in the early years has a lasting impact on development and the ability to learn and manage emotions. (3) Though
the brain is adaptable, there are sensitive times for optimal development.
(4) Negative experiences or the lack of stimulation may have lasting consequences.

Why is this important for parents and caregivers to know? Parents are the very first teachers a child has—and, in fact, are co-architects of the brain. The loving interaction between a young child and the parent builds on and expands nature’s basic foundation. Scientists describe this interaction as a “serve and return” action: the child naturally reaches out to the parent in some way, and adults respond with words or gestures. This back and forth exchange strengthens the architecture of the brain, affirms the child’s sense of worth, and enhances social development. With repetition and stimulation, these connections are not only dramatically increased, but become permanent. Without appropriate stimulation the child will fail to achieve full potential.

The foundation for success in school and life begins at or before birth, with parents enjoying the privilege of being the very first teachers for their child, followed by additional partners in the educational process.

We have always known parents are important—science simply confirms and gives practical definition to their impact. So what is a loving parent to do? Fortunately, this is not rocket science—here are some tips:

  • Give consistent, loving care, with gentle, affectionate touch, promoting both physical and brain development.
  • Engage in language with your child from the moment of birth, using words, songs, books and rhymes. Watch for and respond to cues from your child, practicing “serve and return” interaction. Repeat whatever your child says, adding additional words. Note: passively watching TV does not have the same impact!
  • Look for teachable moments all through the day, using ordinary actions as “windows for learning.” Name items, identify colors, count, describe things outdoors and concepts such as bigger/smaller, hot/cold.
  • Introduce children to music, which develops the areas of the brain required for math and spatial reasoning.
  • Mirror the behavior you want to see in your child: a soft voice, patience in solving problems, ways to handle a variety of emotions. A child’s healthy attachment to the parent provides the necessary foundation for trust, independence, and effective relationships with others later in life.


Improving Literacy Through Crafts

             When I started coordinating Reading Hour, I had no idea what to expect from the children. I never really gave thought to the attention span of a three or four year old, or their level of comprehension when reading. What I really didn’t understand is that reading hour has the potential to make a child either like or dislike reading, depending upon their experience. After the first few weeks of struggling to maintain enthusiasm and attention from the children participating in the program, I decided to do some research on child literacy.  Children that do not have the motivation to read for fun are less likely to actually read, and therefore they are less likely to read throughout their time in elementary school because they do not view it as a fun activity. This dislike and lack of motivation can begin as early as prekindergarten which can in turn affect a child for the next decade of their school career. After discovering this, I decided I needed to alter the program in order to ensure that the children were motivated to participate in reading hour. I started to research different literacy crafts and began incorporating a literacy activity at the end of every reading hour. Each reading hour now has a focus book, along with reading a myriad of books to the children, each volunteer will end their reading hour with the same book. That book will act as the focus book, and immediately after reading that book, the child will do a craft associated with that book. For example, last week we read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?  by Eric Carle. After reading the book, the children all made bear puppets out of brown paper bags with their reading buddy. This enforces the book and reading comprehension, but also engages the children and allows them to associate reading and crafts. This keeps the children interested in reading and in my experience has tremendously improved their comprehension and excitement in reading. Maintaining a child’s excitement about reading is a pivotal part of the Reading Hour program. 

--Taylor Wills

Reading Hour Video

Please enjoy this video about Reading Hour, and consider volunteering with us! Thank you, The Learning Ladder Child Development Center for providing an amazing space to film and adorable children! Thank you, Joelle Shenk and Andrew Mussey for producing the video, and, finally, thank you to our very talented actors!

Songs and Literacy

Katie SimkoThis past fall, I began my year of service with AmeriCorps as a Family Literacy Resource Specialist. Going in, my expectation was that I would get to read to some children and work with some volunteers but I never expected to learn so much from these preschools I work with and children I am in contact with. One particular center I have been working with utilizes songs to designate certain routines and even to calm the children down. I found that so interesting and was baffled at how well it worked so I decided to so some research on why it is so effective.

It is well known that the ability to read is a precursor to success in both school and life for a child. By the age of 2, children who are read to regularly display greater language comprehension, larger vocabularies, and higher cognitive skills than their peers. Research shows us that rhymes and songs are great tools to develop strong literacy skills and ensure that every child has the skills and tools necessary to be successful. Singing songs throughout the day can make a child more aware of the sounds and repetitions of letters. When these songs are used repetitively day after day, children become aware of patterns and sounds associated with words or phrases and they increase the number of words in their vocabulary. Not only are these songs and rhymes beneficial to the children’s development, many children will identify them as a fun part of their day! The link below has more information and some great ideas for songs to incorporate in to any child’s life! There are songs about all different topics out there, from brushing your teeth to rhyming songs about peter piper and I am having a great time learning some of them and watching them effect the lives of the children I have the privilege to work with!

-Katie Simko

NRV to Benefit from Three Grant Proposals

The Virginia Early Childhood Foundation was awarded a $17.5 million Preschool Expansion grant which will serve 11 Virginia localities including 2 new VPI+ classrooms in Giles County.

Total Action for Progress has been selected to negotiate for $2.7 million for Early Head Start for the NRV and Greater Roanoke Region with 60 slots in the NRV.

The United Way of Southwest Virginia received a Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth grant for the Southwest Region Star Quality Initiative for $180,000 over 3 years for curriculum and training to help children make healthy choices. 

NRCC's Early Learning Center

New River Community College’s Early Learning Center received a star-quality rating from the Virginia Star Quality Initiative and Smart Beginnings in August, 2014.

The Early Learning Center serves as a lab school for college students in New River Community College’s Early Childhood Education Program. The center provides high-quality educational programming for three to five year old children in the area.

The leaders of the child care center, including Linda Claussen, who served as program director for the ELC from 1978 until 2005, Bonnie Graham, the program head of Human Services and Early Childhood Education, Sherry Townsend, and Kayla Smith, ELC lead teachers, celebrated their rating in October with Delegates Joseph Yost and Nick Rush. David Moore was honored to participate in the celebration as well. 


Phil Mun Loves Volunteering with Reading Hour

“Coming into this program, I thought I would be teaching a child to read on a higher level.  But in reality, the child I read to has actually taught me to be more patient with others and how to communicate effectively with children.” –Volunteer, Phil Mun