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September 16, 2014 - Rachel Goodspeed, Public Relations, United Way of Greater Cincinnati

Ensuring all children ‘estan listos’ for kindergarten

When Diego walks through the doors of his kindergarten class in the fall of 2015, he will know his letters (upper and lower case), numbers, shapes and colors. He will know how to sit quietly, take turns talking … and he will speak both English and Spanish.

“When I was pregnant, I was thinking it was going to be hard for him because I didn’t speak a lot of English so how was I going to teach him how to do everything. If he’d started at kindergarten learning English, it would be hard for him because he’d be older. I wanted Diego to start early because I wanted him to have a better future,” says his mom, Atziri. “I want him to go to the university, so I think it’s really important to start him learning English earlier and then go through school.”

Last fall at age 3, Diego started preschool at Child Focus, Inc. – a United Way agency partner – as part of the Bilingual Immersion Program, which serves families in Clermont and Hamilton Counties. As part of the program, bilingual teachers like Alanna spend time in classrooms supporting Spanish-speaking children who are immersed in a classroom with children who speak English.

"We want them to be as best prepared for kindergarten as they can be.

“The English-speaking children help them along, will communicate back and forth, they’ll play together, which helps the Spanish-speaking children be better prepared for kindergarten where they won’t receive as much bilingual service,” says Alanna.

Without these programs, children like Diego are less likely to be prepared for being in kindergarten – something United Way of Greater Cincinnati has set a goal to improve across the Tristate. As part of the Bold Goals for Our Region, United Way Success By 6® is leading the regional effort to ensure at least 85 percent of children will be prepared for kindergarten.

Because language development in the first five years includes sound recognition, simple sentence structure, mastering grammar and increasing vocabulary, the program is important for both Spanish AND English-speaking children.

“He doesn’t feel alone because he’s not the only child to speak Spanish, but it’s exciting for him because he gets to learn a new language,” Atziri says. “He comes home with a different song or different title of a book.”

In addition to learning English, Diego has also learned “how to follow the rules” – social-emotional skills that are critical to a child’s future success in school, career and life.

“He has a lot of interaction with the other kids so he learned more English and learned how to follow the rules,” Atziri added. “There’s a time to do different things at different times – there’s time to play, there’s time to clean up, and time to eat.”

Atziri’s work with Diego at home is also an important factor contributing to Diego’s success in school. According to Success By 6®, parent, grandparent and caregiver involvement is vital to helping children have a successful start in kindergarten.

“The school provided a lot of good information like how we could be better parents for Diego, how to help him with everyday learning.

"We have a schedule every month and activities to do every day to give us ideas on how we can be a part of his learning. It helps him a lot,” Atziri says. “It’s an experience for me and my husband, too. The school helps both Diego, me and my husband, as a family. It’s a different culture we are learning together and I just enjoy every day we learn together.”

“His mom works very hard with him at home,” Alanna says. “She went to the library with him to get the ‘Chica Chica Boom Boom’ book, which he adores. They work on letters and numbers. I don’t think he would’ve been as prepared without this work.”

“It’s not only the job of the teacher in the classroom; it’s up to us to do the work at home, to do the homework, to spend time with Diego, to read a book every night, to do some activities,” Atziri adds.

Collectively, quality kindergarten readiness programs like the Bilingual Immersion Program lay the foundation for children to read on grade by the end of third grade making them more likely to graduate on time, ready for college and life.

“At the end of the year, it’s incredible to see how much they’ve grown and it makes me really happy as a teacher to say this person is now ready to go to kindergarten,” says Alanna. “I believe this program is worth a lot more than money. This program helps shape the futures of children like Diego in an excellent way. Years from now, he’ll enter the job market fully bilingual and maybe one day he’ll help break communications barriers for other families.”

What this place needs … more quality early education programs

You can help support our community:

  • Donate to help reduce the waiting list for quality early education programs.
  • Volunteer as a reader, tutor or mentor.
  • Advocate for federal and state funding for early education programs.