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Emily Norris understands families. She knows not every parent has school at the forefront of their mind when their child turns three. Some families believe their child isn't "ready," and they might be unaware of where to begin in the process of enrollment. Her gift is a delicate understanding of how early contact with kids can form a lasting foundation that benefits later learning and living.

A Place to Feel Safe,
A Place to Grow.

Along with a team of teachers, teaching assistants, additional parent coordinators, speech pathologists, and occupational and physical therapists, Emily is raising bridges and welcoming young community members to a place within the Ottawa ES 141 District that's welcoming, safe, and appropriately challenging for their budding minds.

Ottawa's pre-K program is a sizable operation, currently sitting at 134 kids, with 20 to 40 more students expected this year as community screenings continue. On top of the all-day "Preschool for All" program at Lincoln, there are eleven sections of blended classrooms, and a developmental pre-K. Emily's job is to sync up with families and bring them into the fold. She has families covered everywhere, from screening to registration, researching necessary services to transportation. 

Emily is no stranger to this scene if it wasn't already obvious. Before she arrived in the Ottawa district in 2005, she worked with young students as a Developmental Therapist. What makes the program at Ottawa so remarkable is its faculty's intuitive sense of families' specific needs. "Oftentimes, parents will say, 'My child's not ready yet, they have a hard time listening or following directions,'" Emily relays to us, "I often say, 'That's exactly why we want them here, so they can practice that.'" Since parents are their children's first teachers, Emily and the rest of the pre-K superstars want parents to feel they can work alongside them without judgment. "I want them to feel safe sending their students to us. Even if they're little, even if they're not potty trained," she emphasizes, "I want them to know that they're safe here."

Emily enjoys working with parents, hands down. One of her greatest joys is watching a parent see their child unlock a possibility in the classroom that otherwise might have remained buried. The district's mission is "Kids First," and the pre-K faculty take this intention to heart. "I think the preschool teachers I work with have very much lived and taught day-to-day with ["Kids First"] in mind, because they are amazing. They make possible so much," she beams, "It's almost natural to them to make some accommodations for all the different varying skills that we have when they come in." With this level of education expertise in play, it's no surprise that all the district's pre-K programs have waitlists. Fortunately for Ottawa and the rural communities covered by district outreach, Emily often sees every kid move off that list and into the classroom. 

She would reach out and find more families to assist if she had a wish available. It's a peculiar wish from where we're standing because she's already doing that and more. We understand her urge to do extra since her passion is to involve families in their children's education and show them what younger students and their teachers can do. When you understand family to the degree that Emily does, it only makes sense that you want to continue giving it all to what you know best. We'd be hard-pressed to find a more constructive path to the future we all want for our young people. It must start somewhere, and the sooner is all the better.

I think the preschool teachers I work with have very much lived and taught day-to-day with ["Kids First"] in mind, because they are amazing.
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