Jumpstart aims to break reading record and promote early childhood education

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News


Every year on the same day millions of children hear the same book all across the globe.This year the group is reading Llama Llama Red Pajama, a book about a baby lama getting scared after going to bed.

Though it may sound frivolous, there is serious message behind the storybook tale. It is part of Jumpstart’s “Read for the Record” campaign and it calls for an end to early education achievement gap.

Jumpstarts’ Senior Program Director Atalaya Sergi says that the campaign is an opportunity to share with a national audience ways to address disparities in early childhood education such as, “the importance of literacy and not only reading with children but spending time in conversation and building their literacy skills.”

According to Jumpstart, low-income kids, such as many areas in South LA, are at risk of school failure before they start kindergarten.Jumpstart anticipates reading to 2 million children today.

Since 2006, Jumpstart has read with more than 5 million children and raised $6.2 million.

Preschool: A possible answer to Los Angeles’s academic troubles

By Alex Abels

The final story of a four-part series on Jefferson Park and the changing urban neighborhood.

At 1 p.m. on a Thursday in April, four-year-old Tony Williams appears to be living every kid’s dream – whizzing down the slide at the Leslie N. Shaw Park with a goofy smile plastered on his face. Most kids stuck in a classroom would envy Tony on this warm afternoon in Jefferson Park. Unfortunately, Tony is actually the envious one – he wants to go to preschool but can’t.

Tony’s father, Paul, who was recently laid off, thought he had explored all of his preschool options in the Jefferson Park area. He could find nothing in his price range or with an open seat for his child. “There’s only so much I can do,” says Williams. “He should be at school learning to read and count and making friends.”

This is a common problem, not only for residents of Jefferson Park, but for all of Los Angeles. Preschools, especially quality preschools, are out of reach for about half of all four-year-olds in Los Angeles County, mainly due to lack of availability. With 10 million residents, LA County is one of the most heavily populated in America. There are currently more than 155,000 four-year-olds living in Los Angeles, but only about 70,000 licensed spaces exist for them in preschools.

Jefferson Park faces these problems and is even worse off than the average neighborhood in LA. The proportion of residents under the age of 10 – almost 20 percent – is among the county’s highest, according to census data. So with a multitude of children ready for preschool and severe lack of facilities, residents of Jefferson Park have a dilemma.

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OPINION: Parental involvement helps children prosper in school


By Jennifer Quinonez, for Los Angeles Universal Preschool

image“The first day can be scary, even parents are crying,” says veteran preschool teacher Joy Cyprian about the transition from toddler to preschooler. “But in a few days, the kids are running to the front door, excited to be back at school.”

Getting a child energized about learning something new is actually very easy, as kids love show off their accomplished task.

“I’m making a castle out of rectangles and squares!” shouts four-year-old Andrea, a preschooler in South Los Angeles.

From figuring out how to zip up a jacket, to spelling out their name with a big bright crayon for the very first time, learning is fun for active young minds. That’s why parents need to be engaged in their child’s learning because by doing so, it will greatly help their child’s overall happiness.

Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) works to help parents learn new ways to become involved in their child’s life and education, because it’s a crucial component to the health and well-being of a child.

“Parent engagement is a critical, “says Elsa Leal, LAUP’s Parent Engagement Resource Team Supervisor. “We encourage an array of opportunities for parents to be involved in their children’s education that focus on communication, volunteering, parent education, parent advocacy and community resources.”

Studies show that regardless of the family’s economic, racial or cultural background, as long as a parent is involved in their child’s education, the results are impressive. They include better school attendance, reduced drop-out rates and overall better student achievement.

“I see how getting involved helps my daughter with her social and motor skills,” says mother of two Kay Mangum. “If kids aren’t ready, they’ll fall behind and we should all do what we can to support them.

  • One way to strengthen the bonds at home is by eating together as a family. Studies show that children whose families eat together at least four times a week scored higher on academic tests than those whose families eat together less often.
  • Another idea is to read to your child regularly, even if it’s for only five to 10 minutes a day, with a goal of 20 minutes a day per child. This will help strengthen your child’s reading, writing and speaking skills.
  • Educators also say it’s important to limit the amount of time your children watch TV and play computer and video games. It’s best to also choose quality programs and watch TV together as a family, asking your child questions about the show as well.
  • Parent involvement also includes having a lot of daily interactions and conversations with your child. Talking with them and asking them open-ended questions such as “What do you think happened?” or “Why” gets kids to enhance their critical thinking skills and improve their vocabulary.
  • Just as starting a conversation with your son or daughter is important, so is listening to their answers. By doing this, you’re showing that their ideas and thoughts matter which helps improve their self esteem.

If parents show they care, it’s the best way to ensure your child’s successful educational path as well as sending an important message him or her that education is important.

For more information about enrolling your child in a high-quality preschool program in Los Angeles County, please visit www.laup.net or call 1.866.675.5400.

Single dad finds affordable option for son’s preschool needs


By Jennifer Quinonez for Los Angeles Universal Preschool

imageThere’s no question that the economic hardships many Southern Californians are facing today are affecting families in all socio-economic groups. But the hardest hit tends to be those in the middle- or working-class. These are families of whom many are living paycheck to paycheck.

“I’m a single dad raising two kids, and everything is so expensive these days,” said Hawthorne resident Theo Mays, Sr.

Mays is a mail carrier and says he earns too much money to qualify for programs that would help pay for his children’s educational needs. Yet, he sacrifices every month to pay for the basic necessities such as the mortgage, health insurance and more. He says there was no question that finding a preschool for his youngest child was top priority.

“Financially, I needed help and Ms. Toi’s preschool program was the answer,” said Mays. “Not only did she provide an affordable program, she’s also giving my son a jump start.

“The core of his learning starts here, and even though I do take a very active role, I work full time. It’s reassuring to me that I know he’s getting the basics taken to another level.”

‘Ms. Toi’ is Toimicia Deffebaugh, a Family Child Care provider in South Los Angeles who operates a preschool out of her home. Mays says Deffebaugh’s educational and nurturing environment coupled with the affordability factor made it an easy decision for him to have his son attend her program.

image “The parents in my community want preschool, but it’s not affordable, and there’s little high- quality access,” says Deffebaugh. “So, a lot of four-year-olds are sitting at home, with elderly grandparents or other family members. I have a lot of grandmas calling me realizing their grandkids need to be better socialized, but not sure what to do.”

Since 2005, Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) has funded hundreds of preschools like Deffebaugh’s throughout Los Angeles County, giving people like Theo Mays the chance to have his child experience a high-quality preschool at little or no cost.

“All four-year-olds deserve the chance to thrive and live up to their fullest potential,” said LAUP Chief Executive Officer Celia C. Ayala. “That’s why it’s our goal to keep funding quality preschool education in the county, to make it more accessible and affordable to thousands of families.

“We need children to participate in a positive learning environment while getting ready for kindergarten, regardless of their parents’ financial situation, because their future success in life depends on it.”

imageDeffebaugh notes that preschool gives families a great introduction to preparing their child and themselves for lifelong success.

“In preschool, a child’s vocabulary expands weekly and children learn through play,” said Deffebaugh. “Children learn to count and their letters and numbers through songs, and movement, and creative expression and that’s why playing is so very important to learning.

“If it’s fun, they’ll grasp it.”

For Mays, preparing his son for kindergarten is top priority and finding a program that offers support and quality has made all the difference in the world.

“As a parent, you don’t’ know everything, but here, through this preschool teacher and LAUP, I’ve learned about things like nutrition, and why playing is important to my son’s learning, and how to help him at home,” said Mays. “I understand now that a child’s learning starts at a very young age. I didn’t have this opportunity with my now 12-year-old and I wish I had.”

For information about LAUP preschools throughout Los Angeles County, call 866-675-5400 or visit www.laup.net.

More stories from our ‘Preschool Cool’ series:
LAUP offers education resources to aspiring teachers
How to help the transition from preschool to Kindergarten
The economic impact of preschool
Good habits begin in preschool

OPINION: LAUP offers educational resources to aspiring teachers


By Jennifer Quinonez for Los Angeles Universal Preschool

imageFinding a quality job and making a difference in a child’s life may seem like an unattainable dream. For many, it may also seem overwhelming as to where to begin to fulfill that goal.

Today, students have a place to turn to for guidance and financial support, thanks to Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP), which is seeking to support and inspire people interested in working with children and their families.

LAUP is a non-profit organization providing high-quality, free or low-cost preschool to children in Los Angeles County. Three years ago, LAUP launched an Early Care and Education Workforce Initiative to provide resources, funds and one-on-one support so that a person can more easily pursue an education in the field of child development. The Initiative is composed of seven collaborations located throughout Los Angeles County.

One collaborative, called Project RISE, is led by Long Beach City College (LBCC) and the program has partnered with the Long Beach Unified School District and California State University, Dominguez Hills to recruit, train and help students receive their degrees in early care and education, as well as furthering their careers in the field.

“We’ve changed the way our students think about their career path,” said Donna Rafanello, Long Beach City College. “Instead of taking a couple of courses, they’re thinking about this as an educational career, because we help them with the certificate process and offer specialized counselors — so it’s really made an impression.”

LAUP also supports its own LAUP preschool teachers by providing financial assistance through its stipend program to those who want to further their education. The LAUP Stipend Program awarded more than 200 stipends to LAUP teachers who have successfully completed college coursework in child development over the past year.

“The LAUP stipend was a great motivator, just knowing that there was somebody looking out for me, and encouraging me to go back to school while I tried to work as well,“ said Preschool Teacher Leslie Toscano. “I think teachers having degrees is very important. Sometimes, we think of preschool as a time of play or just daycare, but I believe children need teachers who understand that this is a very important age for them to learn. It’s the foundation of their young lives.”

For more information on these programs, contact LAUP at 1-866-675-5400 and visit www.laup.net.

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OPINION: How to help the transition from preschool to Kindergarten

OPINION: How to help the transition from preschool to Kindergarten


By Jennifer Quinonez for Los Angeles Universal Preschool

imageAsk most parents and they’ll tell you that the transition from their newborn cooing and crawling to running around and talking and getting ready for kindergarten happens in what feels like a minute. So it may come as no surprise that many families might feel unprepared about how to best help their child become better prepared to enter the world of elementary school.

Experts say it’s never too early to get your child ready for their next educational experience. Research shows the best way to do this is by first enrolling them in a high-quality preschool program and then taking an active role in preparing the child for kindergarten.

“Transitions can be very stressful for children and talking to them about the upcoming changes to a new school like kindergarten will help alleviate some of the stress,” says Celia C. Ayala, the CEO of Los Angeles Universal Preschool. “Having a smooth transition to kindergarten will help a child adjust to their new school, and how well a child adjusts to their new classroom can have an impact on their academic and long-term social achievement.”

Educators recommend planning ahead and involving your child in the kindergarten process to have the most successful adjustment for everyone involved.

In the year leading up to kindergarten, Ayala recommends parents to take advantage of a quality preschool program because it’s a great way for them to learn lifelong skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking.

“In preschool, children learn to wait their turn, share and get along with others,” she explains. “Preschool also encourages literacy, language and math skills, as well as teaching children how to communicate their emotions and be empathetic.

image“This will go a long way in showing a child how to build friendships and get along with others.”

A few months before your child enters Kindergarten, it’s a good idea for families along with their 5-year-old to visit the classroom and meet with the teacher, principal and other staff. By doing this, it will ease a child’s fears about the upcoming changes, and give parents the chance to ask specific questions such as:

  • What curriculum do you use?
  • What is your teaching philosophy?
  • How can I volunteer in the classroom?
  • Do you offer before- or after-school care programs?

Above all, it’s important to help your child feel excited and comfortable about this new journey by talking to them about what’s about to happen and to discuss routines like washing hands, reading and play time, manners and schedules. It’s best to do this in a fun and interactive way to avoid causing anxiety about their new environment. Talking with your child in a positive manner and acknowledging their different feelings will additionally help your child feel comfortable about the new school year.

The first day of kindergarten may seem scary for your child, but if a parent helps them through the transition with support and understanding, it’ll strengthen the bond that lets the child know that no matter what changes may come their way, they can be assured that their family will always be there to help.

To enroll your child in a quality Los Angeles Universal Preschool program at little or no charge, call 1-866-675-5400 or visit www.laup.net.

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OPINION: Funding early childhood education, funding California’s future

By John Deasy and Celia C. Ayala

There’s little doubt that California today is facing monumental challenges. High unemployment, a stubborn recession and a gargantuan budget deficit are staring us in the eyes.

It’s quite evident that tough decisions must be made to right the ship. Gov. Jerry Brown began that process when he recently released his state budget proposal. Overall, it was a good start with one glaring exception: his plan to shift $1 billion in state and local Prop. 10 funds to balance the books. Doing so, in our opinion, would be a monumental mistake that would hurt education and health services for children statewide.

When voters approved Proposition 10 in 1998 by imposing a new tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, they did so because they supported the establishment of the much needed early education and social service programs for children age 0-5.

Los Angeles County benefits in many ways through a variety of children’s health and early childhood programs funded by the First 5 LA Commission, which administers Prop. 10 funding locally. One of those programs has touched the lives of more than 40,000 four-year-olds, who have been able to receive a quality preschool education.

Brown has proposed shifting $1 billion from the reserve accounts of state and local First 5 commissions. The governor is also proposing shifting 50 percent of future state and local First 5 commission revenues to the state’s general fund for early childhood services. Should that succeed, thousands of children – especially those from underserved communities – will not receive a quality preschool education to better prepare them for kindergarten.

No matter where you stand in the political spectrum, you should be concerned because one fact is clear: the future of our state will largely depend on our children’s ability to compete in an unforgiving world economy, and early education plays an important role in helping children gain the critical thinking skills they need to succeed. The governor’s budget proposal would defeat that objective.

We could not agree more with Nobel-Prize winning economist and Professor James Heckman. In a letter to the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Reform, he calls for investing in high-quality early education or risk putting “our country’s future in peril by producing a deficit in human capital that will take generations to correct.”

In Los Angeles County, it is sad that preschool education is already out of reach for about half of four-year-olds, mainly due to the lack of availability. That should concern all of us, because research has shown children who attend a high-quality preschool education enjoy greater academic achievement, are more likely to graduate from high school and college and are less likely to be involved in crime.

And according to a report from the RAND Corporation, African American and Latino students have lower levels of proficiency in several academic measures than white and Asian students. Preschool appears to be a promising solution to narrow such achievement gaps.

As such, it is imperative for Brown and the legislature to not take any action that would hurt early education efforts. This is especially important if we want to level the playing field for children who come from disadvantaged homes. Studies show at least half of the educational achievement gap between poor children and their more advantaged peers is evident in kindergarten, because many of them do not attend preschool.

That is crucial because children who start behind in kindergarten often remain behind throughout their entire school experience, which inhibits learning. This is one contributing factor to the fact that about 35 percent of Los Angeles students don’t graduate from high school.

We urge Brown and legislators to support efforts to even the playing field – not the opposite – and to provide a strong foundation for children by not threatening funds that support early childhood education. After all, today’s preschoolers are our country’s future leaders and taxpayers.

Simply put, we cannot afford to balance the budget on the backs of our young children. We urge Gov. Brown and the Legislature to not reduce Proposition 10 funding. Doing so would have lasting consequences that threaten not only our children’s future, but that of our state.

John Deasy is the incoming Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school system in the nation. Celia C. Ayala is the CEO of Los Angeles Universal Preschool, which funds high-quality preschool programs across Los Angeles County.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons