Ray Huard.…Not so long ago, children started school in kindergarten, or maybe even first grade.
If parents still wait that long to put their children in school, their children will start their education with “a distinct disadvantage” that often sticks with them as they progress through school, said Carol Herrera, a trustee of the Vista Unified School District.
“That’s difficult for some parents to understand, because they believe they should keep their children in the home until kindergarten or first grade,” said Herrera, a former teacher.
Don’t wait, was the message Herrera and others emphasized at the Vista Unified School District’s recent Third Annual Early Childhood Education Fair at Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts.
A central theme was that preschool, which is for children 3 to 5-years-old, is where children should start their education.
“It’s more than important, it’s essential for the growth of these children that we get them as early as we can,” Herrera said. “We have to make parents aware that the schools are there for them. They just have to take advantage of them.”
Vista Unified offers half-day preschool at 11 district elementary schools through the nonprofit, Educational Enrichment System. The schools with preschool classes are Beaumont, Bobier, Foothill Oak, Grapevine, Hannalei, Maryland, Mission Meadows, Monte Vista, Temple Heights, Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, and Casita Center for Technology, Science & Math.
The school district also offers full-day preschool through Education Enrichment System at the David and Jillian Gilmour Facility, 735 Avenida de Benito Juarez, and at the Vista Child Development Center, 410 West California Ave.
Other preschools participating in the fair included Children’s Paradise Preschool, Happy Times Child Development Center, and MAAC Head Start & Early Head Start.
They were among more than 30 nonprofits and other groups represented at the fair, which drew about 1,300 people, according to district Family & Community Engagement Network Lead Jacqueline “Kiki” Bispo.
Interim School Superintendent Matt Doyle said that the fair is meant to draw needed attention to preschool services.
“If we put more focus, attention and support into the early stages of child education, we can have a greater impact on our society,” Doyle said.
Vista Unified’s goal is to become the model of educational excellence and innovation, and Doyle said, “Excellence starts at the earliest levels.”
Board of Education President Rich Alderson, a former teacher and former high school principal, said that the pace of learning has accelerated so much that children need the early start that preschool gives them.
“I go back and look at this from the time I taught, and the rigor has really increased from kindergarten through fifth grade,” Alderson said. “By the time kids are in kindergarten, they’re expected to know numbers and colors, and things that used to be taught in kindergarten.”
For those whose native language is not English, preschool also can give them “a leg up,” Alderson said.
Among other things, preschool teaches children important social skills, such as sharing and independence and just gets them used to being in a classroom setting, said Marisa Jackson, educational coordinator for Educational Enrichment Systems.
“We read a lot of books, so they get exposed to that literacy,” Jackson said, adding that parents also get accustomed to the routine of waking their children at a certain time, getting them ready and dropping them off at school.
Along with providing information on preschool, parents at the fair could enroll their children in preschool, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten. Transitional kindergarten is for children who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 and are too young for conventional kindergarten, which is for children who turn 5 before Sept. 1.
The fair also featured performances by preschool and elementary school students, including ballet folklorico, dancing and musicians playing guitars and drums.
Parents could also take home free books and learn about services provided by a wide range of agencies from the Boys & Girls Club of Vista and Manpower Employment Agency to Vista Storm Soccer Club and the Vista Community Clinic that have formed partnerships with Vista Unified.
The number and variety of the organizations that are working with the district and helped with the fair were impressive, Alderson said.
“What pleased me the most is to see the community partners,” Alderson said.
Echoing Alderson’s comments, Bispo said the fair “brings together schools, families, and community partners to support early childhood education, collaboration and love.”
“It’s a true celebration of unity and all of the beauty and richness in our large and extended community.”