In the late nineteenth century, Frederick Douglass stated, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Over one hundred years later, an early childhood consortium of service providers, including the Superintendent of Waukegan Public Schools, met to discuss the future of Waukegan’s children. According to the 2000 census, there were 8457 children under the age of five living in Waukegan—ten percent of Waukegan’s total population. As a result of this discussion, EPIC was created.
EPIC (Early Childhood Education Partners In Collaboration) is a community-based collaborative program that is committed to offering an easily accessible, well-coordinated, high quality system of services for children from birth to the kindergarten door. Waukegan Public School District 60 sponsors the educational component of this mission and an Illinois State Board of Early Childhood Education Block Grant provides the funding. There are many community partners, including United Way of Lake County, Head Start/ CAP-L, AAUW, YMCA, A Safe Place, DCFS, Kid’s Hope United, North Shore Church of Christ, and Waukegan Public Library.
There are three EPIC preschool sites within the Waukegan Public School District with an enrollment capacity of approximately 650. The schools operate as a unified program and implement the same Illinois Early Learning Standards activity-based curriculum. There is an emphasis on experiential “hands-on” instruction, social and emotional development, and emergent literacy. Parents play a crucial role in the EPIC program. EPIC’s parent contract encourages parents to participate in parent-child activities such as “Rock-n-Readers”, “Make and Take”, and “Mom, Math, and Me”. Each school session is two-and-one half hours, with morning and afternoon sessions available. There are 20 children, one 04 certified teacher, and one paraprofessional in every class. Classes are blended with three, four, and five year-olds and inclusion of special needs children is standard practice if it is in the best interest of the child. All schools offer English and Spanish instruction and support the student’s native language.
A community-wide developmental screening is available for all three, four, or five year-olds living within the Waukegan School District and is required prior to enrollment in the EPIC program. The Screening Office is located at the Welcome Center, 742 W. Greenwood Avenue, and can be reached by calling (847) 249-6482.