Photo: Fledging Fund
Long before President Obama triggered a new national interest in universal preschool earlier this year, a Central Valley-based Head Start program for children of migrant workers has been breaking down barriers that have kept Latino families out of early learning programs.
Data suggests that Latino children, who now make up more than half of children under 5 years old in California, have historically enrolled in early education programs at lower rates than their peers in other ethnic groups.
“We know from 20 years of research that a lot of Latino parents prefer to use home-based care, and that preschools appear to be excessively formal and sometimes not inviting institutions” to those parents, said University of California, Berkeley education professor Bruce Fuller, who has spent years studying early education issues in the Latino community.
“Formal” and “not inviting” are not terms that could be used to describe the child development center in Hughson, a small agricultural community nine miles southwest of Modesto. Four portable classrooms sit facing a play area with a jungle gym and a swing set. On a recent morning, the center was filled with 52 children ranging in age from newborn to 5 years old.
One of the reasons parents give for feeling welcome at the center is relatively simple: Spanish is spoken here.
And it’s not just that an effort is made to communicate with parents in Spanish, but also that children are instructed in both Spanish and English.
In the preschool classroom at the Hughson center, 3- and 4-year-olds sat in a circle on the rug listening to teacher Gabriela Mora reading the story of the three little pigs, or los tres cerditos. The kids were glued to the drama of the huffing and the puffing and the blowing down of houses. Mora was reading in Spanish, but when she paused to ask questions, kids answered in both languages.
“Que hicieron Paco y Pascual?” Mora asked her students in Spanish. Translation: “What did Paco and Pascual do?” Asking open questions about what characters have done or what is about to happen is an effective way to engage young children in reading, Mora said later.