Five years ago in Cleveland, Ohio, Major David Hernandez arrived at the Salvation Army’s Ohio City Corps and noticed how the city’s Department of Education promoted its preschools.
“Ohio City already had an afterschool program, but I saw preschool as bigger fruit for the Army. It was a stronger need to meet in this community,” remembers Major Hernandez.
The corps devoted its attention to creating a certified, year–round preschool program for 3– and 4–year–old children. Today, the Ohio City Corps has the second of three Salvation Army preschools in the area, and has been awarded four–star ratings and monetary grants from noted state education organizations such as Step Up To Quality and PRE4CLE.
“The Salvation Army Ohio City Corps has a preschool with licensed, bilingual teachers and a strict curriculum,” says Lucy Conant, director of education at Ohio City and a former grade school and special ed teacher.
“Children who have had even one year of preschool education begin kindergarten with an advantage,” says Conant. “Socially, it can be the difference between a kindergartener being able to express, with words, that he or she feels angry, and another child who uses aggression to express that anger.
“After three months here, children from Spanish–speaking homes are talking in English too,” says Conant. “But we also have children from English–speaking homes who have yet to learn basic words. They may come from a home without any vocal interactions or have parents who are not willing to make the effort. That’s where you find a child who needs a preschool environment most of all.”
“We are blessed to offer support that another preschool program would not be able to offer,” says Hernandez. “Parents are invited to participate in Sunday services and other Army programs. We also have a case manager who we refer families to if they need special help.”
“We also accommodate parents with difficult schedules by extending our own hours,” says Conant, who has picked up children and driven them to preschool or home at the end of the day.
“For many households that have been denied help one way or another for so long, especially single–parent households, it can be overwhelming to suddenly have so many resources at their disposal,” says Conant. “You have to be cognizant of every situation and communicate as well as you can.”
The preschool program has become a powerful outreach ministry for the Ohio City Corps. “I spoke to a mother who did not know about The Salvation Army, but asked us if her youngest child could attend our preschool. She had heard what we do here and loved it,” says Hernandez.
“Every year, more children turn three years old in Cleveland, and our enrollment will only get larger. We now know all the ways that preschool benefits a child,” says Conant.
by Hugo Bravo
The benefits of a preschool education
Preschool provides social and emotional development for children. It may be the first place where children learn to share their belongings and follow instructions. They will also build trusting, loving relationships with teachers and other children.
|A preschool environment is structured. Though it may not appear that way at first to parents, and likely never to a child, a good preschool is structured to encourage interactions, and minimize congestion and conflicts.|
Preschool promotes language skills. Between the ages of 3 and 5, a child’s vocabulary grows from 900 to 2,500 words. Preschool teachers help stretch a child’s language skills with thought–provoking questions and discussions.
|Preschool nurtures curiosity and imagination. An encounter with a new toy, an unusual plant or a bird singing at a window can be turned into an exciting opportunity to learn and imagine.|
|Preschool develops pre–math, literacy, and motor skills. Young children are naturally interested in new numbers and words. In preschool, they are introduced in ways that are meaningful and memorable to children, such as rhyming songs and number–matching games. A preschool keeps children in motion through running, playing, and climbing, but also tunes their fine motor skills by cutting with scissors, holding crayons, and threading beads.|