Bell Gardens Preschool Program Expands to Huntington Park

Cigarette tax funds are used to operate preschools in underserved communities.

By Paul Aranda Jr., EGP Staff Writer

A non-profit organization is in the final stages of opening a licensed preschool in Huntington Park that will help children from low-income families get ready for school. When it opens, Huntington Park Rita will be the third licensed preschool in Southeast Los Angeles County that Bell Gardens based Human Services Association (HSA) will operate through a Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) grant.

The LAUP is a public benefit corporation established in 2004 to make voluntary preschool available to all children in Los Angeles County. It is funded by First 5-LA, through Proposition 10 state tobacco-tax revenue. HSA currently operates LAUP facilities at its main office in Bell Gardens and at Tweedy Elementary School in South Gate.

Leticia Chacon, Associate Director at HSA, is working to fill the available slots at the three-sites as the new academic year gets under way. Currently there are seven slots available in Bell Gardens, and 48 afternoon slots at the new Rita center in Huntington Park. Chacon said parents should sign up on the waiting list because slots routinely become available throughout the year.

“The new preschool’s curriculum will provide both children and parents with a strong educational foundation,” Rosie Ramos, a program director at HSA, said.

To be licensed, the school must meet specific quality requirements at its facility, as well as with the curriculum and teaching staff qualifications. The full requirements can be found on the LAUP Web site: www.laup.net, click on quality standards, or by calling 1-866-581-LAUP (5287).

The preschool sites currently operate at an eight-to-one ratio between teachers and students and all teachers are required to possess some form of college level early childhood education.

As part of its mission to make preschool assessable to all children in Los Angeles County, LAUP does not charge tuition but does require a parent investment fee. This one-time sliding scale fee is based on the medium income in the school’s neighborhood, and on what the family can afford to pay. Chacon said most families enrolled in the HSA run preschools receive a fee waiver.

Ramos, who oversees the HSA preschool program, said parents now have a good opportunity to give their children a high quality education that will benefit them when they move on to elementary school.

She sites the High/Scope curriculum that the teachers use with the students as the key to their program. According to the program’s Web site, www.highscope.org, this curriculum enables children and adults to learn through hands on experience with people, materials, events and ideas.

As an example, Ramos said that while other sites may have materials for art projects pre-prepared, the teachers at HSA guide the children through all the movements with the project. The teachers would give the children child-safe scissors and paper and allow them to experience the process of cutting for themselves.

“That gives the child the ability to feel so good about themselves because they accomplished one task to the other task,” she said.

Jessica Escalante, who has been teaching at the Bell Gardens preschool for the past five years, has a certificate as a master teacher in early childhood education. She said the best part of the HSA program is the focus on the children’s needs.

The teachers take note of what topics they hear the children talking about when they develop the next week’s lesson plan. As an example, Escalante said that a future lesson plan would be devoted to roly-poly bugs after the children were heard talking about them the previous week.

Escalante said the biggest challenge is to teach the parents the importance of what they do at the school.

“To them [parents], it may just look like they’re playing, but they’re really learning and it is important for parents to be involved as much as possible.”

She also said they work to encourage parents to become involved with their children’s teachers. The instructors and officials at HSA all point to parent involvement as the number one priority. Both Chacon and Ramos, trained in social work, developed their preschool program around parental involvement.

“We are trying to help the children and the parents have an easier transition into kindergarten,” Ramos said.

Chacon and Ramos said that the children who attend preschool are better prepared for kindergarten then those who do not because they have the time to work on many issues children face when they first start school. In addition to academic standards such as counting up to 25 and knowing how to spell their name, children need time to learn how to use words when they communicate, how to properly socialize with other children and overcome separation anxiety when their parents are gone. With all this accomplished at a preschool, upon entering kindergarten, they are a step ahead of their classmates who did not attend preschool.

Chacon said the children become role models when they enter kindergarten because they already understand what is expected of them and they do not require the same instruction that the other children will need.

“The children that enter our program will become successful in their elementary schools,” Ramos said.
She pointed to the confidence that the children gain through the program upon entering kindergarten as the key to that success.

“We have confident children who are ssure of themselves and willing to try new things. We teach them to be individuals. They know they are going to school to learn.”

To inquire about available slots for the three LAUP preschools at Human Services Association call (562)-806-5400 ext. 193 or visit www.hsla.org.

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October 2, 2008  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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