Castle Rock Early Learning Center Earns Certification in the LEAP Preschool Model

Published On: June 13th, 2023|Categories: District News, News|
Castle Rock Early Learning Center Earns Certification in the LEAP Preschool Model

Congratulations to Castle Rock Early Learning Center for earning LEAP (Learning Experiences and Alternative Program for Preschoolers and Parents) Preschool certification. The team at Castle Rock was presented with an award on May 31, 2023 by Kelly Wilson, a senior research fellow from the University of Denver Positive Early Learning Experiences Center.

Founded in 1981, the LEAP Preschool Model reflects both a behavioral and developmentally appropriate approach for teaching children with and without disabilities within an inclusive early childhood environment. Through an Early Childhood Special Education initiative, the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has contracted with the University of Denver to implement LEAP PreK Models across Washington state.

In Wenatchee School District, preschool teacher Wendy Graves led the Castle Rock team through the comprehensive and rigorous two-year certification process in just one year. The Castle Rock Program received a record-high score of 96% on LEAP quality program indicators, a tool used by the model to measure if a program has reached fidelity (a minimum of 90%).

The LEAP certification process was a natural culmination of work that began in 2017, explained Emily Wilgus, Wenatchee School District’s Early Childhood Coordinator. After a group of teachers visited a LEAP classroom in Portland, OR, Castle Rock began implementing both LEAP Preschool Model and Pyramid Model Practices into the classroom.

“LEAP model practices are best practices,” Wilgus added. “They are evidence-based, student-focused, goal-oriented, and developmentally appropriate practices that have a direct and positive impact on students and families.”

Castle Rock Early Learning Center now has the opportunity to serve as a learning lab for future programs going through the LEAP replication process. During learning labs, Castle Rock will be used as a tour site allowing other programs the opportunity to see LEAP practices in action and hear directly from another program that has earned certification.

“Our team is able to share personal experiences with other programs, explain the why behind classroom practices, and support the work of early learning in our district and community,” Wilgus said. “Collaboration with others reaffirms our goals, provides perspectives, and maybe most importantly, gives teaching teams moral support.”

North Central ESD’s Janelle Bersch had the opportunity to walk alongside the Castle Rock team through the LEAP certification process as the Implementation Specialist. Bersch was able to focus on the logistics of managing grant funding from OSPI while the Castle Rock team could focus on bringing the inclusive practices into the classroom. She ensured that Wenatchee School District had the support they needed to achieve their goals including communication with OSPI and facilitating the grant process.

“Inclusive early learning environments celebrate the differences in children, promote understanding and build community in the classroom,” Bersch said. “This sense of community that Castle Rock is cultivating has long lasting effects even after the children leave the preschool environment and transition into elementary school.”

Inclusive education in early learning involves so much more than having students together in one classroom, Wilgus added.

“It starts with a mindset that the early learning years are crucial, and that all students have value and can learn and thrive when given the right support,” she said. “Without that mindset, inclusion, regardless of the age of the child, can feel impossible and maybe even unproductive.”

Castle Rock functions without a set of criteria that requires a child to prove “readiness” to be in a classroom. According to Wilgus, the only “readiness” required with an inclusive education mindset is that the child was born and is now the correct age to start school.

“We meet children where they are at with shared goals based in developmentally appropriate, evidence-based practices to teach students the skills needed to be a successful student and human being,” Wilgus added. “Truly inclusive educators acknowledge that every child has a need for connection and belonging.”

School districts and early learning programs can learn more about LEAP certification and the OSPI initiative by contacting Janelle Bersch at

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