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Getting a jump on learning Patty Chavez | Sat, Mar 15 2014 12:00 PM

Early learning isn’t about textbooks but a time when children learn through song, games, story time and social interaction. So as an example, coloring, cutting and pasting develop muscles in their palms and fingers to get them ready for holding a pencil. Songs like the ‘itsy bitsy spider’ teaches children to develop vocabulary, rhyming and pre-reading skills.  And sitting on the rug for story time teaches that it’s time to pay attention and to sit still to some degree with arms and legs to themselves and listen. It provides an environment that helps children develop early reading skills such as recognizing letters and sounds. These are examples of skills needed in kindergarten so as not to start school behind.

Research continues to prove that quality early learning programs not only prepares children for kindergarten but gives them a better chance of success later in school. Children who receive quality early care outperform their counterparts in academic areas; are more likely to attend college and hold jobs that require higher-level skills; and are less likely to be placed in special education classes.

But not everyone can afford part-time or full-time early learning programs. In Chula Vista, the average annual cost of full-time preschool can run about $8,000 to $12,000. In the Castle Park community, Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood’s (CVPromise) door-to-door surveys found that 62 percent of preschool age children were not enrolled in any preschool program. And more than 50 percent of these children were read to less than three times a week.  This is why CVPromise developed a comprehensive Early Learning Network (ELN) of intentional support, services and specialized early interventions for our young children and their families.

There are various components to CVPromise’s early learning network that begins at newborn home visits and extends to kindergarten to third grade in-school tutoring. In regards to addressing preschool age children, CVPromise is taking a dual approach by providing a free full-day preschool and homecare provider support.

“When Escuelita del Futuro first opened,” Lizbeth Noriega, ELN Program Director said, “We found that many of the kids didn’t have any language. They pointed to items and just didn’t use any words in English or Spanish. So working with both students and parents was essential.”

Now fully enrolled at 40 preschoolers ages three to five, Escuelita del Futuro, CVPromise’s preschool located on the campus of Castle Park Elementary, provides specialized curriculum for English Language Learners (ELL) and includes Farm to Preschool where children learn about fruits and vegetables first hand. To extend the learning into the home, parents are participating in monthly workshops, working closely with ELL coaches and volunteering in the school.

“I have noticed a big change in my girls since school started,”Graciel Salmeron a mother of two preschoolers, 4 year old Airam and 5 year old Yandel.  “Yandel comes home singing and reciting days of the week, the alphabet and numbers up to 100 in English and Spanish. And Airam, she is much more attentive and can follow directions much better.”

Salmeron, who also has children in second and fifth grade, shared that her attitude about school and preschool education has also changed. She understands the various milestones for each grade and how important they are for her children’s continuing education.

“I’m volunteering more and better understanding what my children are learning,” she said. “I talk with the teachers often. I’m able to help them more at home. And my kids are so proud that I’m at school helping.”

CVPromise Promotoras, Developmental Specialists and ELL Coaches are also working with homecare providers and non-formal caregivers, like grandparents, with young children in the community. They offer monthly workshops, resources and the support they need to provide an enriching educational environment at home to prepare children for kindergarten.

“Mondays here are great,” Noriega said. “Children and parents come back to school or visit our parent centers excited to share about the book they read together or a fun at home activity they completed. It’s a great feeling.”

Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood (CVPromise) is proud to partner with Castle Park Elementary, Castle Park Middle, Castle Park High School, Hilltop Middle and Hilltop High School to bring new opportunities and pathways of success for their students and families. For more information, please visit CVPromise.org<http://CVPromise.org> or call 619-422-5005.

Chavez is Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood spokesperson.

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