Contra Costa Times (California)
By: Paula King
November 29, 2010
OAKLEY -- Andrea Luna is on the fast track to kindergarten readiness. The 3-year-old already can count to 20 and write her name.
Her proud mom, Blanca, attributes her daughter's success to the state-funded preschool that she attends on the Gehringer Elementary School campus. The Oakley Preschools program, which also operates at Oakley Elementary School, is designed so that children in low-income families can have a preschool experience before starting elementary school.
All of Luna's three children have attended the preschool, and her 5- and 7-year-old children have thrived as students at Gehringer after completing the preschool program.
"They teach them all of the educational stuff that they need to be ready for kindergarten, like counting, writing and colors," said Luna, a working mom who also is a part-time student at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg. "(My daughter) loves the program. I get along with the teachers well."
For several years, the families whose children attend the preschool have benefited from the Share the Spirit grant, which provides each of them with $43 gift cards to Walmart. The full grant that the preschool received was $3,500.
"We are so thankful for what we received this year. We give it right back to our community," preschool director Tammy Gonis said. "They are low-income, and they are strapped financially. We give them that opportunity to shop."
Luna has benefited from the holiday grant multiple times while her children were enrolled in the preschool, which is run by the Oakley school district. She said that she has used it for food for the entire family and clothing or Christmas gifts for her children.
"It actually helps a lot," Luna said of the Share the Spirit money. "It always comes as a nice surprise this time of year. All of the parents at the preschool are very appreciative of the help."
Preschool teacher Kerry Williams said that some of the new parents do not yet know about the Share the Spirit program and the fact they will be recipients this season. The returning parents are very touched by the gift, she added.
"It is a tremendous help to many of the families," Williams said. "Some give it right back to us through donations for the preschool and school."
Williams said that some of these families would not be able to afford preschool if it weren't for this no-cost program. Families are selected based on their income and the number of individuals in their family, and priority is given to 4-year-old children who are getting ready to enter kindergarten the following year.
The preschool operates three hours per day on each school day during the academic year. It's based on the belief that early learning is the key to lifelong success through developmentally appropriate curriculum.
The preschool focuses on a learn-through-play philosophy, but it is academic in nature with a focus on letters, sounds, seasons and the general building blocks for a kindergarten education. An emphasis is also placed on socialization, Gonis said.
The program has operated in the district for a few decades, and former students have gone on to successful lives, according to Gonis.
"We are always looking for ways to help the community and the parents," she said.