Preschool teacher Maria Martinez Hain sits on a multi-colored rug and rolls a ball to one of the eleven children also sitting on the rug during “circle time” in the Clasé de Padres e Hijos at Warren Cherry Preschool, 1418 Lake St. The 2-year-old girl on the receiving end of the ball shyly states her name and rolls the ball back to her teacher. Claps and cheers from the parents in the room and a warm squeeze from her mother – on whose lap she sits – assures the girl she did well.
“Muy Bien!” says Ms. Martinez Hain, as she begins to roll the ball to the next eagerly awaiting child.
The Clasé is nearly identical to the other parent-child classes offered at Cherry Preschool except that this one is conducted entirely in Spanish.
Maggie Hessler, Cherry Preschool’s site director who helped spearhead the school’s Latino program seven years ago, says the Clasé is unique compared to other Spanish preschool programs. It is intended for dominant Spanish-speaking families interested in a positive preschool experience for their young children, as opposed to a Spanish immersion class for parents wanting their children to learn Spanish as a second language.
The Clasé, also referred to as the Latino Parent/Child Class, is designed for children between the ages of 2 and 3 years of age, but younger siblings are also welcome to attend. It meets on Fridays from 9:30 to 11 a.m. October through June. It is not a drop-in class and children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
“The goal of the class is to provide an opportunity for Latino parents to interact with their children in a special setting under the guidance of a native Spanish-speaking teacher,” says Ms. Hessler. “It is also an opportunity for parents to interact with other families who are sharing in the experience.”
Ms. Hessler also says that part of Cherry Preschool’s mission is to be inclusive by reflecting the larger Evanston population. She says an important part of Cherry Preschool’s community outreach effort is to make the preschool accessible to all families regardless of their ability to pay, but adds this has become challenging in the current economic times as the school’s scholarship funds are in higher demand by all of the families.
The program is underwritten by Cherry Preschool’s fundraising efforts. The Clasé, which would typically cost around $700 per child, is just $50 per child for the year and includes a flexible payment option.
Participants in the Clasé are given priority enrollment for the following school year and scholarship support if needed.
Each student returning to the school attends classes taught in English. Ms. Martinez Hain, the teacher of the Clasé and the Latino program coordinator, says the hope is that Spanish-speaking families enrolled in the Clasé will establish trust with the teachers and the Cherry preschool setting and then enroll their children in the English-speaking classes.
“Most of the families who continue with the Cherry program following the completion of the Clasé, are committed to their children learning some English before starting kindergarten,” says Ms. Martinez Hain.
Dominga Leon, mother of Alejandro, says participating in the Clasé and the subsequent three years at Cherry Preschool helped to prepare her son, who spoke only Spanish at home, for kindergarten. He is now a second grader at Washington School.
“Alejandro adapted very quickly to kindergarten. He never cried or said he didn’t want to go. At Cherry he learned how to communicate in both English and Spanish. We have such fond memories of Cherry,” says Ms. Leon, as translated by Ms. Martinez Hain.
Despite efforts to attract Latino families to the program, it has been a struggle to have the Clasé fully enrolled each year. Ms. Hessler says one problem is that it is a partial-day program.
“We continue to make efforts to get the word out about this unique opportunity and are hopeful the program will grow,” she says. “We believe that a diverse school community in which children play and learn with others different from themselves enriches all of our lives.”
To find out more about the program call Maggie Hessler at 847-492-1213.