In a three-story school building in the predominantly immigrant community of Corona, Queens, three-year-olds gather on a colorful mat surrounded by books as a teacher leads the morning activity. Each student is asked to spell his or her name and the class sings a welcome song. One child gleefully shouts the letters in everyone’s name, correctly spelling his own name and the names of seven others.
When it’s his turn, Jacob leaps to his feet to spell his name, barely able to contain his joy at the knowledge he possesses. Those who see him today wouldn’t recognize him as the little boy who joined the Early Childhood Education Program at our Corona center only six months prior. When he started, he possessed the same enthusiasm, but didn’t know any English. Unable to communicate, he bore out his frustration by hitting, biting, and kicking others. Sheltering Arms staff members were undeterred, and created an individualized program that reinforced positive behaviors and engaged him in developmental activities. Today, Jacob is meeting English literacy standards, and is on pace to succeed in preschool and beyond.
For Jacob, a little bit of learning went a long way. Conversely, missing even just a few months of academic intervention during the brief window when children’s brains develop has life-long consequences.
Imagine that Jacob never had the opportunity to attend the Sheltering Arms Early Childhood Education program. His first chance to learn English would have come in Kindergarten, by which time many of his peers would be reading, writing, and building on extensive vocabularies. His frustration at his limited abilities relative to the other children would only grow, and result in increasing disobedience, further impairing his efforts to learn the basics or master future lessons that depend on a foundational education.
Jacob’s mom is only too aware of this alternative future. “I don’t want my children to end up going down the wrong path like some other kids I see. Those kids end up in the streets. They don’t have a future because they never had a good start.”
At Sheltering Arms, we envision a future where every child has a good start, where every child who wants to learn has the opportunity to do so. To achieve our vision, we strengthened our educational programs with innovations in children’s mental health, services for children with learning disabilities, resources to support the professional and educational advancement of parents, and expert interventions for children who never received the good start that Jacob did. The results of these efforts paint a picture of a promising future in which nearly every child is meeting or exceeding developmental standards, prepared to achieve their dreams.