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Growing and Learning Together: mother, daughter benefit from Children First!

Deer River early childhood program benefits mother and daughter alike

Students named class valedictorian have achieved academic success. But Felicia Shadley, valedictorian of the Deer River High School class of 2010, has successfully met more than academic challenges.

At 16, Shadley found herself pregnant and in need of a plan to balance school and raise her daughter, Aleigha.

“I was desperately in need of daycare, and I wasn’t working because I was in high school,” she said.

When Shadley began her senior year, her not quite one-year-old daughter was accepted into Deer River’s Invest EarlyTM program, a program that focuses on early childhood care and education and offers a wide variety of services to children and families in Itasca County. She enrolled her daughter in an Invest Early early childhood center just blocks from the high school. But Shadley discovered that being close to school was only one of the program’s advantages.

“I see a lot of improvement with Aleigha’s vocabulary and manners,” Shadley said. “She used to have a lot of anger problems. They have been helping her with calming techniques, and it shows at home.”

Melanie Storlie, lead teacher with Invest Early in Deer River, explained that the program addresses many facets of a child’s development.

“We help children learn to regulate emotions, make sure they understand the teaching, and make sure they are learning and comprehending language while reaching developmental milestones,” Storlie said. “So for Aleigha, as with other children, we adjust our teaching to her developmental stage, not her age. We allow her to explore and grow her developmental skills.”

Shadley also has seen the benefits of Invest Early in her post-secondary education. She began the LPN program at Itasca Community College (ICC) in Fall 2010. After Shadley completed her first year of classes at ICC, Shadley was named to the Dean’s List for achieving a 4.0 grade point average for the Fall 2010 and Spring 2011 semesters.

“They (Invest Early) are really flexible with me, and if I need more time to study or if I am at school after the time I am supposed to pick her up, they don’t mind,” she said.

Shadley said she’ll continue to utilize Invest Early for Aleigha’s care while she completes the LPN program, then spends one more semester earning her associate’s degree. She credits Invest Early with helping her be successful academically, but says Aleigha’s benefits in learning key life skills are just as important.

“I tell her she’s going to school, because it is educational based, and the children to learn and acquire different skills,” Shadley explained. “The staff is so involved with the kids, teaching them to treat each other with respect, sharing and working together. It has helped a lot.”

Blandin Foundation’s support of Invest Early is part of its commitment to the Itasca area, its home community. The initiative, which receives about $1.5 million in grants from the Foundation annually and is in its sixth year of operation, is making strides in supporting families with young children, and in preparing children for school.  For details on Invest Early’s impact, visit


Felicia Shadley and her daughter, Aleigha, have been involved with the Invest Early program since 2009. While Felicia completes the LPN program and an associate’s degree at ICC, Aleigha is getting a solid foundation of developmental and educational skills for her young life.

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