June 30, 2006

A safe place for children

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

Domestic violence can affect the proper development of children.

But luckily for 36 children in the South Bay, there’s a new preschool that will try to help them overcome the scars of family violence and abuse.

Mi Escuelita Preschool, a therapeutic preschool for children exposed to family violence, opened on Monday, June 19, and had it´s ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday, June 27.

Mi Escuelita is a partnership between Chula Vista Elementary School District (CVESD) and South Bay Community Services (SBCS), a social services agency that offers family services.

City dignitaries and school leadership cut the ribbon for the new “Mi Escuelita” at Rice Elementary School in Chula Vista. Cutting the ribbon is Rice principal Emiko Nakamura, and to her left Chula Vista Police Captain Don Hunter, 79th State Assembly candidate Mary Salas, city councilwoman Patty Chavez, and Jim Baldwin.

Funded by the First 5 Commission and local housing developer Jim and Nancy Baldwin, of Otay Ranch Co., Mi Escuelita is a special place for those children that have had trouble adjusting to preschool after experiencing violence at home, said Kathie Lembo, South Bay Community Services executive director.

Most of the 11 children currently enrolled, come from SBCS family temporary shelters, she said.

“Our kids haven’t done well in regular preschools,” Lembo said. “Here they will be ready to go into kindergarten.”

Chula Vista Elementary School District is providing the land the preschool will be located on the Rice Elementary School campus, on the corner of 4th. St. and L St.

Present at the ribbon cutting were former Chula Vista councilmember Mary Salas and Chula Vista Councilmember Patty Chavez.

District Superintendent Lowell Billings said that Mi Escuelita will provide the much needed place of security these children need.

“I want to congratulate Kathie for sticking to her vision and making this dream a reality,” he said. “As I saw these youngsters in this safety and security, it pressed upon me that we’re truly meeting the needs of our community. These children will be in a better place from now on.”

Rice Elementary Principal Emiko Nakamura said that the Rice community was “thrilled to be the host site for this school that will help children a lot.”

She said that Rice Elementary was chosen because it has more space and it has a central location in Chula Vista.

It took more than four years to make this school a reality.

Mi Escuelita received $1 million from the First 5 Commission. Jim and Nancy Baldwin of the Otay Ranch Co. have pledged to donate $100,000 per year for four years.

The funding will allow the preschool to enroll 36 children. So far, it has 11 children enrolled and it is accepting applications.

About 60 percent of children enrolled are Latinos, said Katie Ray-Jones, director of Family Wellness and Self-Sufficiency Department for SBCS.

About 70 percent of users of SBCS services are Latinos, said Dina Chavez, associate director for Quality Assurance for SBCS.

That´s the reason why all the staff at Mi Escuelita is bilingual (English-Spanish) and the program will provide bilingual education to the children, Chavez said.

Therapists will assess each child individually to select what type of therapy they will follow, Ray-Jones said.

All three teachers in the classroom are trained as violence prevention counselors, she said.

With three teachers and 36 children, the teacher to student ratio is smaller than that of traditional preschools.

“We wanted to start small so that the children would receive the most attention possible,” Ray-Jones said.

She added that the preschool will also be intergenerational, since a group of 10 senior volunteers will serve as mentors for the children.

Sixty year old Rebeca Contreras will be one of those mentors.

“I love children, and especially these children, they need more love and tenderness. I’m going to try to take away some of the pain they’ve been through,” she said.

For additional information about Mi Escuelita Preschool, contact South Bay Community Services at (619) 420-3620.

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