I have fond memories of my children’s childhood.
My husband and I are empty nesters now. Our sons, Thomas and Terrance, are now 31 and 27 years old, respectively, but each time I drive down Vernon Avenue, past the YWCA, I’m reminded of their toddler years.
As a young, working mother, this YWCA was no less than a godsend.
Over 25 years ago, I would drive down the same street daily and drop off my young sons at the Angeles Mesa YWCA of Greater Los Angeles (GLA) Child Development Center (CDC), where they would learn the basics of learning.
Back in the early 1990s, the CDC took infants and would provide care and programming until that child was able to go to kindergarten down the street at 42nd Street Elementary School. Then, teachers from the center would walk CDC-enrolled children who attended the kindergarten’s afternoon session to the school and bring the morning session children back to the YWCA for afterschool care.
Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, that partnership with the school no longer exists and the current YWCA programs there are only available for kids between two and a half and five years old. But still, parents see the center as much a godsend as I did decades ago.
One of these local parents is Gladys De Leon, whose daughter attends the center. She says she was “paying $500 a month elsewhere [for childcare].”
De Leon’s daughter is eligible for free services and the mom says she has fallen in love with the program.
“The teachers are amazing, going above and beyond,” De Leon says. “Mckenzie is four, she can tie her shoe laces, write her first and last name, knows her numbers up to 50 and all her alphabet.”
The YWCA of Greater Los Angeles offers the child development program at six empowerment centers, with preschool programs at five locations around Los Angeles. The sixth CDC is located at San Fernando High School and allows teen parents to attend classes while their infants and toddlers participate in the program.
The programs are funded through the California Department of Education and focus on preparing children emotionally, physically and academically for grade school.
The school year began in July at the YWCA GLA Angeles Mesa CDC, which was founded in 1979. There are 50 students enrolled so far for this year and the capacity is 72.
“Only five of our families pay a fee at Angeles Mesa,” explained YWCA GLA’s Director of Child Development Services Norma Gonzalez. “The others qualify for free services, because of low income or family size.”
In line with current trends in early childhood development, which emphasize parents as important teachers, the program requires parents to be heavily involved in their children’s education.
“[Parents] evaluate their own children,” Gonzales said. “The ASQ — Ages and Stages Questionnaires — is a tool to get children to a higher level by helping parents to recognize and note their child’s progress. Parent involvement is huge at this age.”
All the YWCA GLA programs have adopted the High Scope Curriculum, which focuses on children’s needs while allowing staff to build on children’s own initiative. The programs focus on developmental milestones in pre-reading, writing, sharing, communication, conflict resolution, cognitive learning, large and fine motor dexterity and cultural awareness.
De Leon is so grateful for the program that she heads up the parent committee — planning fundraisers, field trips and teacher appreciation days. She was also instrumental in getting the center’s tricycles replaced after a burglary last May.
“I reached out to Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson and worked with his field rep., who reached out to donors,” she said. “Now we’re trying to get new playground equipment.”
Children attending the YWCA’s programs have fun while they are learning, too. On one of my recent visits, I had to smile in reminiscence as the 4 year olds mixed blue and green paint across from familiar-looking, wooden cubbies; tiny, toddler-level sinks; and cute puzzle toys.
“What color are we learning about today?” teacher Karen Madrid asked, but didn’t get an answer.
“What color is Jasai’s shirt?” she prompted the class.
“Greeeeen,” the children answered, as paint brushes mixed the two colors into one.
“There’s singing, dancing, a spirit of teamwork that keeps them encouraged,” Gonzales said. “Some of them cry at the end of the day. They don’t want to leave.”