Volume 16 Issue 3
By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Preschool teacher Andrea Garcia pounds the drums with student Jocelyn Lara at Even Start Preschool in La Puente. Photo by Scott Buschman.
Music and story time are more than just fun activities for the youngsters attending the Even Start Preschool in La Puente. They are also learning English, the ABCs, numbers, and social skills like sharing and sitting quietly in “circle time.”
The preschool, run by the district’s Family Resource Center, enrolls low-income students, ages 2-5, whose parents mostly work low-paying jobs in food service or construction. The goal is to help children become kindergartenready. It’s a challenge, because Even Start students speak little English, have few books at home, and in some cases have parents who did not go beyond elementary school.
“We focus on literacy, letter sound knowledge, improving oral language and English,” says preschool teacher Andrea Garcia, a member of the Association of Rowland Educators (ARE). “We also do math and science and lots of reading. In the room next door, their parents are learning English, parenting skills, and how they can help their children be successful in school. By the time they get to kindergarten, these students will hopefully be ahead of the game.”
However, due to budget cuts and dwindling grant money, there is a strong possibility that the preschool program may close next year. Garcia worries that if the program shuts down, youngsters in the community will begin kindergarten lagging behind their more affluent peers.
Studies show that the educational support children receive during their first five years influences the degree to which they are prepared for kindergarten and a lifetime of learning. That is especially true for the 694,000 youngsters age 5 and younger who live in poverty. By age 3, children in more affluent families will have heard 30 million more words on average than children in low-income families. The difference is likely to contribute to future school readiness, notes a report from www.childrennow.org.
“Eighty five percent of children’s core brain structure is developed by age 4, providing the foundation for their future health, academic success and social and emotional well-being,” notes the report. “Yet less than 4 percent of public investments in education and development are targeted at children in this age group.”
According to the report, children in low income families typically enter kindergarten 12 to 14 months behind the national average in pre-reading and language skills, and kindergartners who enter school lagging behind are likely to remain so as they move through school. Early gaps in school readiness evident in kindergarten are mirrored in third-grade standardized test scores.
Despite the importance of preschool as a way of leveling the playing field, California has severely cut educational programs for low-income youngsters below age 5, according to a recent report from the California Budget Project.
“California has repeatedly cut child careand development programs in recent years,” states the report. “A CBP analysis of state data shows that the cumulative impact of these reductions amounts to more than $1.6 billion between 2009-10 and 2011-12.”
According to the report, lawmakers have reduced funding for preschool and most child care programs by 15 percent since 2009-10, causing 35,000 low-income children to lose services. The Legislature also reduced the eligibility income limit for poor families, shifted costs to families by increasing day care and preschool fees by 10 percent, and eliminated child care for most 11- and 12-year-olds during traditional work hours.
“It’s a shame, because these children are like little sponges,” relates ARE member Jennifer Kottke, who oversees the program. “It will be devastating to have more students falling through the cracks because they are ill-prepared. When it comes to schooling, preparation is everything.”
Visit the California Budget Project website at www.cbp.org for information on public policy that affects the economic and social well-being of lowand middle-income Californians.