Strong Beginnings

Great Start Readiness Program Cass CountyFor more information, please contact:

Christine Whitmire
Director of Early Childhood Education
Heritage SW Intermediate School District
61682 Dailey Rd.
w (269) 445-6285








           Heritage SW ISD
           Department of Early Childhood Education
           Strong Beginnings Pilot

Strong Beginnings is an early childhood education pilot program offered to three-year-old children who experience various barriers to learning in Cass County. Heritage Southwest ISD’s Department of Early Childhood Education was awarded the grant as only one of four intermediate school districts in the State of Michigan in November, 2020. The program is modeled on Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), with modifications made to ensure suitability for three-year-old children. Research on two-year preschool programs indicates that children who enter formal education in kindergarten with two years of preschool experience show significant positive developmental differences when compared to children who attended for only one year.

Family Partnerships
To strengthen learning at home, Strong Beginnings programs actively engage and continuously partner with families in the learning process to get the best outcomes. With that in mind, Strong Beginnings classrooms feature a Family Liaison who works with families to support their goals and connect them to local services.

The plan is for two cohorts to launch Strong Beginnings classrooms in 2021 for Cass County. Cohort 1 will begin in January 2021 at Marcellus Elementary in Marcellus and Patrick Hamilton Elementary in Dowagiac with 14 children at each school. In September 2021, Cohort 2 will potentially expand to three other schools in the county currently supporting a GSRP or GSRP-HS  classroom, with priority given to Edwardsburg and Cassopolis. Children who enroll in Strong Beginnings are guaranteed entry as four-year-olds in the Great Start Readiness Program (GRSP), ensuring two years of high quality preschool at no cost to qualifying families.

Strong Beginnings classrooms will operate in person, Monday-Thursday on a full day schedule, according to the host elementary school. There will be no virtual only learning offered with Strong Beginnings. Child-safe transportation will be offered to families experiencing barriers to accessing the program due to location. All meals and snacks will be provided at no cost to families. To ensure high quality experiences as a model site, Strong Beginnings teachers will be supported by an Early Childhood Specialist and receive extensive training in supporting the developmental needs of their children using the HighScope Approach, an evidence-based curriculum based in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Families with children aged three by September 1 are eligible for Strong Beginnings, according to qualifying factors that work to increase equity and accessibility in the community.

Michigan Department of Education
The Strong Beginnings Pilot Program was developed by the Michigan Department of Education Office of Great Start, with the support of the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five Initiative (PDG B-5), Grant Number 90TP0055 from the Office of Child Care, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

To find out more, please visit for a simple online enrollment or call us directly at (269) 445-6283 to talk with Vicki Foote, our enrollment specialist. Families will be required to provide complete information on income, health, and birth in order to apply for the Strong Beginnings program.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • 1. What is Strong Beginnings?
  • 2. Who is Strong Beginnings intended to serve?
  • 3. What is the eligibility for Strong Beginnings?
  • 4. Is this part of Head Start?
  • 5. Is this part of the Great Start Readiness Program?
  • 6. Is this part of Great Start-Cass County?
  • 7. Where are the Strong Beginnings classrooms located in Cass County?
  • 8. How many days per week are children in preschool? Full or part days?
  • 9. How does the Strong Beginnings program involve families?
  • 10. How do I enroll my child?
  • 11. Will my child automatically qualify for GSRP the following year?
  • 12. What happens with the Strong Beginnings program if the host elementary closes for a period of time due to COVID-19?

For more information, please contact:
Christine Whitmire
Director of Early Childhood Education
Heritage SW Intermediate School District
61682 Dailey Rd.
w (269) 445-6285