Nuestra Comunidad: YMCA program proves it’s never too early to learn

From the very first day that little Sergio Daniel began attending prekindergarten classes several months ago, his mother noticed that her son carried himself with an air of ease and confidence.

“He was already emotionally prepared to socialize with other children. It wasn’t difficult for my son to see a group of children or follow the rules,” said Hilda Zacarías, Sergio’s mother.

Zacarías credits the ‘Cuidándome y Aprendiendo Juntos’ (Caring and Learning Together) program offered through the YMCA for the early learning and development that allowed her son to arrive to school with this level of preparation.

In addition to gaining important socialization experiences, Sergio also benefited from the program’s educational curriculum, which is based on the academic standards set forth by the state of Georgia for preschool aged children, according to Julie Koriakin, director of Strategic Initiatives for the YMCA.

This program, which serves the Hispanic community in Doraville, Sandy Springs, Norcross and Lawrenceville, was launched five years ago, with the goal of better preparing Latino children for school and increasing opportunities for these children to participate in preschool programs.

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“What we see above all in the Latino community is that there are many children who don’t have the opportunity to participate in programs before beginning school, because they are limited or because their families don’t know how to access those programs. The program was born out of that necessity,” explained Mayira Bunting, who acts as Hispanic Outreach Coordinator for the YMCA.

The initiative, which is free of charge, also offers an educational program two days a week so that caregivers or mothers whose children are participating in the preschool program may improve their skills as educators from home.

“The mother is the first and most important teacher a child has,” said Koriakin. “The mothers come and are able take part in activities that will stimulate the learning process, so that the children not only learn what they need, academically speaking, but also develop all the necessary motor, cognitive, academic and emotional abilities.”

That has been Laura Galicia’s experience, a mother of Mexican origin who attends the program every Tuesday and Thursday alongside her daughter, Brittany.

“This program has helped her a lot, because when we first started coming she didn’t do anything, she didn’t paint or paste or make cut outs. Now she knows numbers, letters and colors,” said Galicia.

For Koriakin, it is important that children obtain educational experience before beginning school.

“If children don’t have that experience before school, everything is unknown,” she said. “Our purpose is to mirror what they will experience when they start school. That way, once they do start classes, they already know what is expected of them, and then the first experience will be a positive one.”

CONTINUED COVERAGEEach Saturday look for a feature story from our media partners at Mundo Hispanico that highlights an aspect of the Hispanic community. For a closer look at its content, go to www.mundohispanico.com or contact editors and reporters directly at 404-881-0441.

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