When a family enrolls a preschooler in a Child Center of NY Head Start program, parents must complete a home inventory that includes the statement, “You see 10 books in the home environment”—and parents answer either “yes” or “no.” More often than not, the answer is “no.”
“Most of the families in our program don’t own books,” explains Marie Mason, Education Director of The Child Center’s Ficalora Family Foundation Head Start Center in Woodside. “Poverty is an issue for the majority of them, and many parents may not be able to read English—or even their native language—and so are unable to read to their children.”
As common sense tells us and research confirms, early exposure to books is key to instilling a lifelong love of reading, and it helps provide a strong foundation for success in school. That’s why our Head Start programs keep classrooms stocked with reading materials. “Our center often provides kids with their first exposure to a collection of books,” says Mason. Teachers read often to the students, who love to listen—but they get really excited when someone new reads to them.
Each day at The Child Center of NY, we work with children and families who have the courage to make a new start, and we see the strength and the resourcefulness they summon to succeed. These families want what all families want: a healthy home life, opportunities for their children, safe community spaces, and the chance to work and provide for their loved ones.
But their path isn’t easy. Some have to choose between medical bills and rent, between staying home with no income or leaving their children in unsafe care, between paying for the car or paying for an apartment. Some of the decisions are unexpected to those who don’t live this reality every day— like the calculating that goes into how often a parent can afford to change a child’s diaper—and they are choices no one should have to make.
One mother, who had to turn down three job offers because she lacked reliable transportation, described the quandary many families face: “It reminds me of the cycle of poverty that so many people go through. You’re trying to get out, and it only takes one thing to go wrong, like a broken-down car, and you’re all the way back to the beginning again.”
We’re here to make those choices easier wherever we can. Continue reading