Summer 2006 Newsletter

NSBN, Children's Center of Antelope Valley & Wilsona ESD Seek to Bring Pre-K Services to N. L.A. County

The northern portion of L.A. County is known mainly for middle-class bedroom communities and empty expanses of desert. But a fuller picture reveals that Antelope Valley is more diverse than that. The valley houses many low-income residents, and many of its low-income children and families do not benefit from the gleaming schools of Palmdale and Lancaster, nor do they have sufficient pre-K childcare. But now, the Wilsona Elementary School District (ESD), and the Children's Center of Antelope Valley (CCAV) are working to bring preschool to the area's underserved residents, and they have formed a partnership with NSBN to identify sites in the Lake Los Angeles Area. NSBN spoke with Cathy Overdorf of CCAV about this partnership.

What inspires CCAV's collaboration with Wilsona Elementary School District and New Schools Better Neighborhoods for the development of new preschool classrooms in the Antelope Valley?

We are really excited to be able to provide additional preschool services. Without the collaboration or the support of both the Wilsona Elementary School District—with which we've had a good partnership since we started an Evenstart program—and NSBN, we wouldn't be able to provide those additional services. We are limited right now by funding constraints especially with what has happened to Evenstart. We have a significant waiting list for our family literacy program, and a lot of our parents are interested in our preschool services as well. NSBN has helped us meet this need and form our vision.

How do the pre-K facility needs of the Antelope Valley differ from those of urban L.A.?

I think that the Antelope Valley, although a part of L.A. County, is unique in that it's kind of rural in some areas and struggling to become urban in other areas, such as Palmdale and Lancaster. But unlike urban L.A., we have a huge transportation problem because of geography and the lack of mass transportation.

I think one of the things that really pointed that out to me was when we were trying to figure out how we could get one of our moms who wanted to go to the college to some classes at the college. In order for her to take one class at the college she would have to get on a bus early in the morning, get off at Lancaster Park to catch another bus, and then arrive at the college to take her class. Essentially it would take her eight hours to take a two-hour class at the college.

Politically, it is a much more conservative area than Los Angeles. But we still have a large Hispanic population, especially at our program out in Lake Los Angeles, because agriculture attracts many workers out there.

You've been involved with early education in L.A. County for some time. What, from your experience, is the best pre-K program model to meet the needs of families and children in the Antelope Valley?

If I were designing programs, I think the first thing that I would say is that they need some flexibility. We have found through our programs that we have to be flexible enough to listen to the needs of the population that we are serving in order to meet their needs.

For example, initially we had thought we would do a typical preschool day, starting at 8 a.m. and run until 11:30 a.m. or 12:00 p.m. We found that that didn't work for the participants that we were serving because they had other children in school. We had to alter our times to run from about 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and we found that our attendance and participation has been much better.

The second key is transportation. If you don't find a way—particularly now with the price of gas—for people to gain access the services that they need, it is just not going to happen.

The third thing that I would say about LAUP in the Antelope Valley is that we see a lot of families in crisis; unfortunately, we have one of the highest rates of child abuse in Los Angeles County. That's primarily because we are a commuter community. That may change somewhat over the years, but right now many of our parents leave early in the morning and come home late at night and there are a lot of stresses put on families. In order for a preschool program to work you need some kind of a case manager or a parent support or parent involvement person – somebody that isn't just tied to the classroom and that can hook up families with other services and give them the support they need and participate in a good preschool program.

A year from now, assuming the current NSBN/LAUP planning process results in more pre-K classrooms, what services will you be offering and what will be happening in Lake Los Angeles?

I think we will be able to add an additional preschool for 4-year-olds, which will allow us, depending on how it is structured, to serve possibly 30 to 40 more families that have preschool children but are unable to get services. Because of the partnership with the Wilsona School District, these children and families should have a much better chance at success in kindergarten, first, and second grade, for a variety of reasons. One, they will have had the preschool experience, and, two, they will also have established a connection with the school district. When parents first put their children in kindergarten it takes a while sometimes for them to feel really comfortable about going to school and talking to teachers. This partnership should speed up that process. The ultimate goal is to ensure success for these children as they go on to school.

If you wanted more resources in north L.A. County, whether financial or professional, to further expand pre-K opportunities, what would you need and to whom would you go for support?

I would come to NSBN to get assistance in directing me towards that kind of support. That's the truth – I am not just saying that. It has been through your efforts—getting the letter of interest—that this may even be a possibility. I would come first to NSBN and say, "look, this is what is going to help us, do you have any ideas on where we could go and what we could do?"

When NSBN approached us, they presented some ideas and suggestions that I hadn't even thought of for putting together some collaborations or maybe looking at some places for additional funding. So I would just throw it back to you and ask, "Can you help with this?"