When I first walked into the THINK Together Raising a Reader early literacy program, I was not sure what to expect. The last thing I thought I would see was a fairy, yes a fairy, teaching the children. Nevertheless, there she was, a grown woman in a pink fairy outfit complete with wings. When I inquired as to what was going on I was informed that she was the garden fairy here to teach the kids about insects and flowers. It seemed simple enough.
The classroom itself looked like any ordinary classroom. Crayon drawings hung from bulletin boards and cut out letters of the alphabet were pinned to the top of the chalk board. There were books, cute little tables and chairs, carpet squares and maps on the walls.
|Yessenia O'Campo & daughter Nicole|
The catch is that none of this would have been possible without THINK Together and its partnership with Santa Ana Unified. Nicole’s school does not have a preschool program of their own and Nicole’s mother, Yessenia, was thrilled when a friend told her about THINK Togethers’ one day a week program. She signed her daughter up as soon as she could. It has made a huge impact in Nicole’s social and educational development.
“Before this she was really aggressive,” explains Yessenia. “I had a lot of people complaining that she was always fighting or wouldn’t share her toys. Now she shares her things and even cares for her little sister. Her grandmother has noticed a big change in her and wonders what has gotten into her.”
Yessenia continues, “She was afraid to come here at first, but it’s been a good experience for her. Now she wants to come to school. She didn’t have that before. She likes to ask so many questions now. What’s this? How does this work?”
What has she been learning? “She is starting to learn how to read a little. She knows her shapes, her numbers and her alphabet. She even encourages herself to learn.”
Yessenia informs me that Nicole has become very fond of books, in particular. “She likes Dr. Seuss. I have no idea why, but she really likes him. Every time we go to the store she asks for books, not candy or toys, just books. Now she even tries to talk to her dad like Dr. Seuss.” I told Yessenia that I still like Dr. Seuss as well.
In addition to the changes in her daughter, Yessenia has seen many changes in herself. The THINK Together program also includes a parent empowerment group that she is attending. In this program parents learn how to understand and communicate with their children better as well as learning how to control their own frustrations.
“I was at the point where I was losing my mind,” explains Yessenia. “I would have to scream at Nicole to get her to listen. If I told her to pick up her toys she would scream back at me. She has really changed since joining the program. Now I tell her to pick up her toys, and she says ‘okay mommy, can you help me?’ and we do it together. She is even trying to teach her little sister how to do things.”
What would life be like without THINK Together? “Things would be so different without these programs. Beforehand I wasn’t paying much attention to Nicole, and she didn’t have the chance to be herself. Now I have a lot of communication with her. Now I sit down and read stories to her and help her with her homework.”
Like any good parent, Yessenia desperately wants what is best for her daughter. “She is very independent and likes to do things her way, and I like to encourage that,” Yessenia continues. “I really want her to go to college and get a good education. I don’t want her to stop in junior high or high school. I don’t want her to have to depend on anybody. I want what is best for her.”
THINK Together is helping her achieve these goals by laying a foundation that Nicole can build upon for years to come. At the ripe old age of four, college may be years away for her but the Raising a Reader program is providing what is best for her today, even if it’s something as simple as bugs, pink fairies and Dr. Seuss.
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