After several moves and related changes in recent years, the Davis school district’s Children’s Center is putting down roots at the Valley Oak campus.
The Children’s Center program — which primarily serves 3- and 4-year-olds — was launched in the 1970s. For many years, the program was housed on the same block as the school district’s offices at 526 B St. But then the Children’s Center moved to Pioneer Elementary in South Davis, then to Korematsu Elementary in the Mace Ranch neighborhood and finally to the Valley Oak campus. It shares the former elementary school campus with a special education preschool program, Da Vinci High School and other programs.
The close proximity of the high school students has led to a unique collaboration.
“We partner with Da Vinci High. Some of their students come over and work with our teachers and students, reading one-on-one with children in our classrooms, using pre-selected books,” said Maria Furtado-Yuen, the Children’s Center director.
The benefit of the collaboration is mutual. Helping at the Children’s Center gives Da Vinci students a close-at-hand opportunity to meet the community service requirement that is part of the Da Vinci program. And the youngsters at the Children’s Center develop better language skills in the process.
“Over 70 percent of our students at the Children’s Center come in with English not being their first language,” Furtado-Yuen said.
Students come from families that are speaking languages as diverse as Korean, Tibetan, Nepalese, Portuguese, Spanish, Vietnamese and several languages from China and India. Some of the parents are affiliated with UC Davis, others are recent immigrants. For some of the children, living in a new country is a big transition.
“We work very hard to make everyone feel safe and comfortable,” Furtado-Yuen said. “Right now, we are serving a little over 100 students.”
When parents drop off their youngsters at the Children’s Center, the children wash their hands (to cut down on germs) and then transition into free play in one of several areas. After a while, a snack is served, and then the children gather with their teacher for “structured circle time — a story, or some songs, or movement,” Furtado-Yuen said.
There’s also time for small group activities, including drawing or writing or music.
“The most important thing we do is provide a safe environment where children can come and build on their social skills, and learn social norms, so that when they enter a kindergarten class, they have great self-esteem and can follow the routine of a kindergarten room — regardless of whether they were born in this country or immigrated,” Furtado-Yuen said. “The majority of our staff, including myself, are immigrants.”
The program aims to “give students the skill to sit through circle time and group time, teach them how cut paper and write their name — these are things that are important,” Furtado-Yuen said.
Rebecca Detrick’s 4-year-old daughter Katie is in teacher Stacy Oler’s class.
“It’s neat to see how kids learn and can become friends and play every day,” Detrick said. “And the teachers are great.”
Maureen Poole’s granddaughter Emily attends the Children’s Center.
“It’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful,” Poole said. “And with a granddaughter, there’s less stress for me than when I was a parent. It’s really exciting, seeing it all again (a second time).”
Poole added that her kids Brian and Brittany attended the Children’s Center around 1990, when it was located downtown.
Parent Krystal Roa has three children — Josiah, Isaiah and Luciah — who have rotated through the Children’s Center over the past five years. “The teachers really love the kids and are very involved,” Roa said.
Jacqui LeValle has had two children at the Children’s Center. “I love this program. Teacher Maureen Driscoll is as good as it gets. The kids are really happy to be here, and that makes us parents happy,” LeValle said.
Parent Kendall Essex said her daughter Anna “can’t wait to get here. She wakes up every morning, excited about preschool. It’s a great foundation — learning, and having fun.”
–Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 747-8055. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com