“I wanted to thank all of you for everything you do. I know we could go with, ‘it’s our job.’ But, really, you all are so thorough and positive and patient. It’s pretty fantastic.”

That’s an email Karen McClure-Richard, Director of Pine Tree Society’s Early Learning Center in Auburn, received from a mother at the end of the year.

The Early Learning Center provides educational programming for young children with special needs. Sarah Burtchell’s daughter, Makayla, is three and a half years old. She was one of 32 children marking their achievements at the annual End of Year Celebration.

“The End of Year Celebration is our best attended event all year,” Karen continued. “Parents and grandparents are there.  It’s a big day.”

This year, students and their families decorated their own cupcakes, made beaded necklaces and bracelets, enjoyed a temporary tattoo station and viewed a special student art exhibit.

All the parents received a portfolio of their child’s work.

“It’s a gift for parents and it’s also a way for us to assess how far a child has come.”

It includes everything from writing samples, to artwork, to what the child says they want to do when they grow up, to photos of them during the year.

“The portfolio is outstanding. It’s just full of so much stuff,” continued Sarah. “I’m a physical therapist and thought ‘Wow! I should do this too!’ It’s a fantastic look back.”

For some parents, it’s a bittersweet moment because their child is transitioning out of the Early Learning Center to kindergarten or pre-K.

“We are often the very first faces parents see when they are seeking help for their child. We represent the first step they took and they have fear and anxiety about changing the people they work with.  But that’s mixed with happiness, because they know how far their child has come.”

About half of the students are taking the step to attend kindergarten or pre-K.

“We serve eight different school districts so we try to pair parents with each other who have children moving to the same school.”

Makayla will be back for the summer program and will spend another year or two at the Early Learning Center before she’s old enough to transition to her next step.

“Early intervention has made a world of difference in Makayla’s life,” said Sarah. “It’s been a godsend.”

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