Kimy Jernigan, 3, walked into the Grovetown Early Learning Readiness Center greeting her teachers with a cheerful, “Good morning.”
She put her name card beside her photo on a colorful board, ready to start the Early Learning program.
Kimy is one of about 30 children who attend the free program offered through the Family Y. The program, which started last spring, gives young children who don’t speak English “a head start,” program Director Elaine Cupp said.
The bilingual program, presented in Spanish and English, teaches Spanish-speaking children and their caregivers basic English and skills needed to thrive in kindergarten. Classes held two mornings a week are designed to better prepare children, ranging in age from infants through 5 years old, for school.
“These are kids that do not tend to get into the pre-K programs,” said Cupp, who taught pre-kindergarten for 19 years. “Our program is free. They can’t afford to go to a (private) program. Most of the time, they don’t even know they should have signed up for the Georgia Pre-K (lottery).
“That’s really unfortunate, because these are kids who really need to be there because they aren’t speaking English.”
Cupp said non-English speaking children often fall behind in school because they spend so much time in English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes instead of focusing on mainstream curriculum.
A caregiver is required to attend the program with the children, so they also benefit.
Tagui Ricarda brings her daughter, Daisy Mezquite, 3, and several other preschool children she babysits.
Ricarda said she registered the kids “because she wants them to learn more and learn new skills and they can develop.”
The program, modeled after a pre-K program in Hawaii, includes lots of hands-on activities at 13 learning centers. Cupp said the caregivers are given instructions about what is expected at each station and then help the children through activities.
“We put in a lot of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) activities,” Cupp said. “We use a lot of activities that are built around that to teach them to have those skills, to think that way.”
The children also do about two exercises, usually a video and a math or science activity, on the center’s smart board. They also do arts and crafts, sing, participate in outdoor activities and have homework after each class.
“It is so much more than learning English,” Cupp said.
Instructor Martha Pastrana said the program definitely helps the children, like Kimy, who didn’t speak English when she started the program. But the caregivers also benefit.
“I’ve noticed that it builds more confidence,” Patrana said. “Some (caregivers) wouldn’t talk at all. It’s like they didn’t trust us.
“(Now) they sing with us, the alphabet in English and in Spanish. They pretty much learned all the songs already.”
Cupp said the program also is for children speaking other languages who want to learn Spanish. Cupp said a German-speaking child and a Hindi-speaking child are flourishing in the program.
“They like it,” Pastrana said. “I think they find it fun to learn another language.”
The center includes an infant area, where Cupp and Pastrana teach caregivers healthy activities for babies, and a library where children can check out books and learning toys to take home.
The center is open 9-11:30 a.m. Monday-Thursday and the free program runs along with the public school calendar. For more information about the program, call Cupp at (706) 922-9619.