One of the real pleasures of writing this column is learning what others are doing to promote opportunity and educational advancement for everyone. Some people work alone and are largely unnoticed beyond the scope of their work. Others have learned to harness the power of partnerships. Some people imagine new ways of using community resources and others know how to access the right networks.

Parents Engaged in Readiness for Kindergarten, PERK, has combined all of these skills to create a county-wide Early Childhood Education Plan. PERK is a coalition of ten early childhood services that provide home visits, child care education, pre-K opportunities, and family literacy programs.

Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers, but not all parents understand how influential the early years are to their children’s future success. This is especially important in Dona Ana County where sixty percent of children arrive at kindergarten with no pre-school experience. The PERK plan focuses on coordinating resources to make sure parents have the knowledge to guide their children to success in school.

AVANCE, Children’s Reading Alliance, Community Action Agency (CAA), Doña Ana County Head Start, La Clínica de Familia Head Start, La Clínica de Familia Healthy Start, Las Cruces Schools Head Start, Las Cruces Schools Title 1 Home based program and Ngage New Mexico are coordinating their efforts to reach more families.

PERK uses the First Teacher curriculum developed by the Children’s Reading Alliance. Parents learn how to create a home environment that supports the pleasures of learning. They receive information on child development, gain practical experience with age appropriate teaching tools, develop skills that promote school success and interact with other parents to practice games that support brain development. The three pillars of each class are Play, Talk, Read. Parents receive high quality children’s books and hands-on training to develop daily reading habits with their children.

Classes are purposefully designed to welcome parents who may be unfamiliar or skeptical about participating in an educational setting.

Participant comments are collected and analyzed after each session. One parent wrote, “I feel like I’ve been shaken awake!  I’m seeing my role change and it feels like I can work smarter with my child.  This program changed our lifestyle.”  Another parent commented, “We aren’t just reading we are really studying the pictures of the books.  I feel reenergized when I leave like I can conquer this all!”

According to Frank Lopez, Director of Ngage New Mexico, “The PERK partners have come together to explore how their programs and services in early childhood education can be aligned and expanded to become more accessible throughout Doña Ana County. This is a unique and significant undertaking. The lessons learned in PERK over the course of the next few months will assist in the development of a plan on a much larger scale.” This work is supported by a grant from the Daniel’s Fund.

Enrollment is now open for First Teacher classes in Hatch which will begin in March. Additional classes sponsored by each of the PERK partners are in the planning stages.

 The Reading Solution column is written monthly by CRA Board Member Rorie Measure to increase public awareness of issues related to literacy.