ECFE Through the Years: Edina Resident Stacy Abena Shares her Story
When Stacy Abena walked into her first Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) class with her new baby boy snug on her hip in 1997, she had no idea what a pivotal life decision she had just made. She only knew that she really enjoyed sharing similar new baby struggles about sleep deprivation and solid food introduction with other moms under the guidance of a wise and knowledgeable parent educator.
Twenty years later, with that baby boy now in college, that same group of ECFE moms have proven to be pillars of strength for one another as exceptional times have brought both joy and heartbreak to their collective families.
“We didn’t know then how much we needed each other,” says Abena. “Only later did we realize how much we were there for each other and continue to be so many years later. I would have drown if I had to do this without them.”
Unique to Minnesota, ECFE is only offered through school district Community Education programs like the Edina Early Learning Center (formerly the Edina Family Center). ECFE focuses on giving parents and caregivers support to help create stronger families, stronger communities and engaged, lifelong learners of all ages. For Abena, core friendships are just one of the reasons her gratitude to the ECFE program is insurmontemal.
“I think it was the single most important thing I did for myself as a new parent, both for my child and for me,” she says. “I felt supported, even in the middle of the night during those early years. I knew I wasn’t alone.”
Four kids and nearly 40 parenting classes later, Abena has maximized every ECFE opportunity offered at the Edina Early Learning Center.
“This program has helped to cast my net wide,” says Abena. “I really love how ECFE paints the Edina community with a broad brush because it helps me appreciate the perspectives of what’s going on in different circles.”
Through the years, ECFE has helped Abena keep her own parenting in perspective. She has found her own pace and learned what matters most to her through parenting classes and discussions with other parents, a trajectory she continues to follow.
“You can’t know everything,” Abena says. “It’s not like you suddenly start knowing what you are doing and the questions stop when your kid goes off to Kindergarten. Your oldest child is the lead duck, so the first time through each ‘next’ stage, whether its taking the bus, parent-teacher conferences, a potential learning disability or playground problems, you don’t stop needing a group to say -- what’s up with this? Chances are someone else has dealt with it.”
Abena knows she is not alone in how important this network support helps parents. The parent-only Beyond ECFE classes create a parent-school community for sharing resources and first-hand experience. Currently, she is enrolled in Beyond ECFE classes for 9th/10th and 11th/12th graders.
“When you are faced with the first high school dance with your freshman you have all the questions. What is normal? How does this work?,” says Abena. “As we share our different perspectives, the stress of it all drops.”
An extension of the Edina Public Schools, the Early Learning Center is part of Community Education Services -- a relationship Abena and her family has always appreciated and benefited from.
“The connection between the ELC and the school district is so beautifully orchestrated and woven together,” Abena says. “The staff understands that early discovery of a developmental or learning concern for your child is so important, and can tap available district resources to get you the help you need. Those benchmarks can make a seamless transition to Kindergarten. It’s huge.”
With her youngest still in elementary school, Abena has no plans to stop her ECFE classes and hopes that others know what a special program we have in our own back yard.
“There is so much mindfulness and thought behind the classes and programming at the Early Learning Center,” says Abena. “I will always be grateful for the grace and care each of my kids received as they crossed developmental stages at their own pace. My wish for anyone living in our community is that they would be able to connect to this program.”
Registration for the 2018-19 Edina Early Learning Center school year classes and programs opens Tuesday, February 6 at 8am for residents and Tuesday, February 13 at 8am for non-residents. Registration for parent-only Beyond ECFE classes begins August 1, 2018.