South LA teacher learns Spanish to help students

By Jennifer Quinonez

image“This is how you wrap the baby, so she stays warm,” said Preschool Teacher Reshon Moutra recently, as she gently held a doll while giving an impromptu life experience lesson to three preschoolers.

“She needs milk too,” said excited four-year-old student, Emmy, as she pitched in during free playtime at Moffett State Preschool in Lennox.

Teaching children self-help skills and more comes naturally to Moutra, who is in her second year as the preschool lead teacher. Yet, surprisingly, teaching wasn’t her first choice.

“I used to dream of being an obstetrician/gynecologist and delivering babies,“ Moutra said. “I was pre-med at Fresno State, but after my first semester, I found out that medicine was not my thing, and I didn’t know what to do.”

Fortunately for Moutra, crossing paths with a group of children on her college campus forever changed her life. Feeling frustrated after a particularly challenging class, she saw preschoolers taking a nature walk.

image“They all began to wave and speak to me and instantly, and I felt my mood change from sad to happy,” said Moutra. “It was as if a light bulb illuminated. I called my mom right away and told her, ‘Mama, I know what I want to be! I want to be a preschool teacher,’ and I never looked back.”

Moutra, who was born in Compton and later raised in Carson, says she is thrilled to work in Lennox, near her old hometown and in a career that helps children at the beginning of their educational path.

She says she has faced many personal and professional challenges in her position as a teacher, but tackles them with the same inspiration and passion that she felt back in college.

“Over the last few years, my biggest challenge was finishing my Master’s degree with a newborn baby, and juggling a new job in a community that is predominantly Spanish speaking,“ continued Moutra. “Most of the children and parents I serve are only Spanish speaking, but I am determined to become fluent.”

Nellie Para-Rios, director of Lennox State Preschool, says she can’t say enough about Moutra’s dedication.

image“We’re so impressed that Reshon is working on her Spanish skills,” she said. “As she grapples with a second language, she can better empathize and support her students,” said Para-Rios. “Her expertise is in knowing that expressive language has a timeline, so she relies on the five senses, routines, visuals and gestures to promote communication. When children see her attempt, then they are more apt to do so as well while they learn English.”

For Moutra, being part of the whole early care and educational experience has been worthwhile, because as she states, her work is making a difference in the lives of the four-year-olds now in her care, and for the community at large.

“Having these kids come to school every day, I see first-hand how fast they pick up everything from new English language skills, to literacy, math, creativity and more,” said Moutra. “I know that by being here, they are becoming better prepared for their future and I am honored to have a big part in that path.”

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

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

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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

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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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