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 or call 1.866.675.5400.

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

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OPINION: The economic impact of preschool


By Jennifer Quinonez for Los Angeles Universal Preschool

imageWith more than 10 million residents, Los Angeles County is one of the most heavily populated counties in America. There are more than 155,000 four-year-old children living here, and yet only about 70,000 licensed preschool spaces are even accessible. Since about half of the children in this area are missing out on a preschool education and possibly starting elementary school behind their peers, Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) is working to provide high-quality, free or low-cost preschool to thousands of children who need it most — but we can’t do it alone.

Business leaders, taxpayers and elected officials need to take a look at preschool as a smart business investment because preschool has proven to help close the achievement gap among children entering kindergarten, as well as combat high crime rates and a sagging economy.

According to a Rand Corporation study, RAND researchers estimated that “a high-quality, one-year, voluntary, universal preschool program in California could generate for California society $2.62 in benefits for every dollar of cost.” The study found that for each annual cohort of four-year-olds (approximately 550,000 children), California would receive an estimated $2.7 billion in “present-value net benefits.”

The positive economic impact of investing in Pre-K services is also significantly felt here in Los Angeles County. The Center for Community Economic Development released a report that says the early care and education (ECE) industry is a crucial element in strengthening and sustaining Los Angeles County’s economy. For instance:

• The early child care and education (ECE) industry generates $1.9 billion dollars annually in Los Angeles County
• The ECE industry is expected to generate the sixth highest number of new jobs between 2006 and 2016 of all industries in Los Angeles County
• The ECE Industry currently employs 65,000 people in full-time jobs
• Benefits all industries in the county by enabling parents to work and attend job training/education programs to upgrade skills
• The ECE industry supports the employment of thousands of families whose earnings are estimated at more than $22 billion.

It’s clear that investing in the early care and education industry is a wise investment not only for taxpayers, but for the proper care and development of our children and the future of Los Angeles County. For more information, please contact Jennifer Quinonez at LAUP at 213-416-1838 or email [email protected].

OPINION: Good habits begin in preschool


By Jennifer Quinonez for Los Angeles Universal Preschool

imageFour-year-old Farid eagerly grabs his father’s hand and leads him into the colorful preschool classroom as fast as he can.

“Baba, ehna lazem nimshi. El madrasa hatebtedi!” Farid, who only speaks Arabic, excitedly had just said: “Daddy, it’s time to go, school will start soon!”

“My son is very excited about school,” said Farid’s father Anton Gendry. “In our country [Egypt], we care a lot about school. Now that we live here in the United States, I want him to go to school and learn English. My wife and I know we have to bring him here every day so he learns.”

Creating good habits like attending preschool regularly and on-time is vital to a child’s healthy development. According to research, a child’s attendance habit constitutes a direct link to his or her overall academic success – or failure.

“Consistent attendance is critical, because the curriculum builds and there’s a pattern to it,” said Los Angeles Universal Preschool Program Director Nonie Smith. “If a child comes and goes irregularly, there’s going to be a learning gap.”

Studies show that regular attendance in a high-quality early education program can boost literacy and social skills, as well as better prepare children for their future.

“Four-year-olds need to know what to expect, they need a routine,” added Smith. “It’s traumatic for a child to have inconsistency in their life. Security for a preschooler is imperative for their brain to be open to learning.”

Once a child enters elementary school, there’s even more reason for parents to take attendance seriously.

“We monitor attendance very carefully at the elementary level because we have a very rigorous pace, and every day, a teacher has to follow a daily map to ensure the curriculum is covered,” said Principal Kathy Carbajao. “The academic program is so thorough, that if a child is absent or tardy, they fall dramatically behind.”

For parents like Victoria Miranda, making the effort to teach her two children the importance of attending school regularly has already paid off.

“My fifth-grader won two awards this month for math and language and she gets them every year,” said Miranda. “She has confidence and loves school. Our preschooler is now following in her footsteps.”

Please visit or 1-866-675-5400 for more information about enrolling your child in a high-quality preschool program in Los Angeles County.

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Preschool Cool: the benefits of preschool

OPINION: The benefits of preschool


By Jennifer Quinonez for Los Angeles Universal Preschool

imageIt’s been proven that the most important years of your child’s development is the first five years of life. That’s because their brain is constantly making connections and in the brain of a four-year-old, a thousand trillion connections are active – twice as much as an adult’s!

So for parents, it’s crucial that they take an active role in their child’s development, and help their child make the right kind of healthy connections to develop their brain power. One way to do this is by choosing a high-quality preschool program.

There are countless benefits to having a child attend preschool. Studies show that children attending a high-quality program significantly enhance their critical thinking; problem-solving and social skills that are needed to succeed in kindergarten and life. Research also shows that children who are attend preschool are more likely to read proficiently by third grade, less likely to drop out of high school or have a teen pregnancy, less likely to become involved in violent crime and more likely to go to college.

According to the RAND report, “Who Is Ahead and Who Is Behind?:Gaps in School Readiness and Student Achievement in the Early Grades for California’s Children”, African American and Hispanic students have lower levels of proficiency in some academic measures than Caucasian and Asian students. Preschool, however, appears to be a promising strategy for narrowing achievement differences.

Additional studies show that parental involvement in their child’s education is the key to their little one becoming successful in kindergarten and beyond. Experts say parents and caregivers should spend at least 20 minutes a day of quality time with their children by engaging their kids in conversations to improve their language and social skills. By doing these activities, along with spending time playing outdoors and reading books together, a child’s self confidence will increase significantly.

Los Angeles Universal Preschool, also known as LAUP (, is a great choice for a high-quality preschool education. The non-profit organization has developed a 5-Star Quality Rating and Improvement System that ensures the 4-year-olds of Los Angeles County are receiving a top educational pre kindergarten experience. LAUP preschools give parents the right to choose whether they prefer a home-based, faith-based or center-based learning environment for their child.

LAUP is a non-profit organization providing a high-quality preschool education at little or no charge to the children of Los Angeles County. The reason LAUP was first established in 2004 was because of the critical need to educate children and get them ready for kindergarten. LAUP programs provide children with a safe and nurturing learning environment and give children the tools they need to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. LAUP programs serve more than 10,000 children per year in 325 preschools throughout Los Angeles County.

To enroll your child in a quality LAUP preschool at little or no charge, please call 1-866-675-5400 or visit