At a program like the Children’s Center — a preschool program operated by the Davis school district on the Valley Oak campus — it’s the little things that count.
One example: the ongoing effort that pairs high school students from Da Vinci Charter Academy — which shares the Valley Oak campus with the Children’s Center, and requires students to complete a community service project before they graduate — with youngsters at the Children’s Center, so they can work together on reading.
Courtney Getter, a Da Vinci junior, participates in this project through a community service class at Da Vinci.
“The coordinators set out themes, and children’s books that go with that theme,” Getter said. “Our last theme was ‘bugs.’ We get to pick four or five books, and we lay them out, and ask the children ‘What book do you want to read today?’ And most of the time, they like to read all of them.”
Getter explained that “when I read to a kid, I have the book facing them. And when I read a word like ‘jump,’ I will move my hand, like ‘this fox jumped.’ Or if there is a bee on the page, I will ‘buzzzzz.’ I try to interact with the kids as much as possible when I’m reading. It gets them more involved, and they pay attention. There is more for them to enjoy than having a book read aloud without emotion.
“In the future, I want to work more with children, to find out whether this is something I would like to study in college,” Getter added. “It’s really a great experience. Working with children is something I enjoy.”
Getter was reading to 3-year-old Jack Huitt, among other youngsters, when The Enterprise visited the Children’s Center during the waning days of May.
Asked about the book that Getter read to him, Huitt said “I liked the pictures. It had animals.”
Classmate Sherman Wright, 4, recalled a book about a mouse that Getter read to him.
“The mouse had a bed. He was scared. He heard weird sounds,” Sherman said. “He wanted to go to talk with his brother. His brother was going to open the door to check.”
Maria Furtado-Yuen, principal of the Children’s Center, said Da Vinci students help not only with reading, but also with gardening, and with special projects like installing a new set of stepping stones in the school courtyard.
“A group of Da Vinci kids put these stepping stones around a tree, and our kids are having the best time, jumping from stone to stone. There is also music — Da Vinci will send students over to perform.
Teacher Stacy Oler, who has worked at the center for about five years, said she sees a good deal of “mentoring, as high school students come over and do activities with the kids.”
“Our kids especially love it when one of the male Da Vinci kids comes over, a lot of our younger boys don’t have an older brother,” Oler said, noting that Da Vinci student Tal Medovoy has spent many hours volunteering at the Children’s Center, and has recruited other high school students as well.
“Having a male influence come into the room is a wonderful thing for our kids. They also like it when one of the dads or uncles visits,” Oler said.
She said the center is “a strong community,” with families staying involved for several years.
“Once we get a relationship with a family, we often have younger siblings come through the program,” Oler said.
An example is parent Maria Vasquez, whose daughter Marissa (now 6 and a student at Montgomery Elementary School) attended the Children’s Center, followed by 5-year-old Manuel, who now goes to the Children’s Center.
“Manuel enjoys coming to school; he’s happy here,” Vasquez said. “He feels safe. He has many friends. He likes painting, reading and story time. When I come to pick him up, he will not leave school until the story is finished.”
Parent Breanne Stambusky’s son Keaton, who will turn 4 in July, attends the Children’s Center.
“There’s a whole group of boys here that he talks about constantly,” Stambusky said. “He’s very active — he plays with cars, trucks, Transformers, all that boy stuff. He also loves circle time and the songs and stories he hears.”
Stambusky added that “Teacher Stacy (Oler) is amazing. She has some very creative projects and science experiments.”
“She recently did a project about the difference between an egg in water, and an egg in vinegar,” Stambusky said. “She let an egg sit in each of those different liquids overnight. The next day, she opened the container, and let the kids smell the difference, and then took the egg out and let them feel it. The egg in water was still an egg. But with the egg in vinegar, the shell had dissolved, it was like a de-shelled hard-boiled egg.”
One of the main purposes of the Children’s Center is “giving the children all the tools they need to succeed in kindergarten,” Furtado-Yuen said. And that includes serving students from many different backgrounds.
“We have a diverse enrollment, with parents who speak many different languages — Spanish, Korean, Chinese, we have some from Nepal,” Furtado-Yuen said. “Our whole philosophy is about supporting the whole family, and focusing on kindergarten readiness.”
There are half-day classes in the morning and afternoon. Fees are geared to family size and income. The Children’s Center is now on summer vacation until Aug. 8, but eligibility forms will be available during the summer at the Davis school district’s central office, at 526 B St. (at the customer service desk).
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 747-8055.