Learn­ing be­gins in Nana y Yo pro­gram

The YMCA’s free course for chil­dren get­ting ready for kinder­garten — and their care­givers — aims to ex­pand across Sil­i­con Val­ley

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Emily DeRuy [email protected]­yare­anews­group.com

Amaya Salazar stared straight ahead, in­tently fo­cused on the pic­ture book her teacher held aloft.

Cu­ri­ous Ge­orge, the in­quis­i­tive mon­key beloved for gen­er­a­tions by chil­dren the world over, was vis­it­ing a fire sta­tion and the al­most 3-year-old’s eyes were glued to the bright yel­low and red pages.

Sud­denly Amaya’s lit­tle voice pierced the air. She’d been to a fire sta­tion, she an­nounced proudly.

With­out miss­ing a beat, the in­struc­tor, Sab­rina Mon­tijo, cap­i­tal­ized on the in­ter­jec­tion. Who works at a fire sta­tion, she asked the chil­dren be­fore her, and what do they do?

Sev­eral kids piped up, “Fire­fight­ers!”

The ex­change was brief, a blip on a re­cent morn­ing. But it’s ex­actly what the YMCA of Sil­i­con Val­ley wants to see.

“FFN is not go­ing away. But if you’re in an FFN sit­u­a­tion, it can be pretty iso­lat­ing.”

— Mary Hoshiko Haughey, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions at YMCA of Sil­i­con Val­ley. FFN stands for fam­ily, friend and neigh­bor care, the tech­ni­cal term for in­for­mal child care ar­range­ments

The or­ga­ni­za­tion runs the classes Amaya and her grand­mother, Ali­cia Koch, at­tend a cou­ple of morn­ings each week in Sun­ny­vale. Of­fi­cially known as the YMCA Early Learn­ing Readi­ness pro­gram, the course is bet­ter known in the com­mu­nity as Nana y Yo, or Grandma and Me.

Launched about nine years ago, the pro­gram aims to help chil­dren who aren’t en­rolled in day care or preschool get ready for kinder­garten and to give their care­givers tools to en­cour­age learn­ing at home. And what started out as a small-scale op­er­a­tion has now blos­somed into 17 sites across Sil­i­con Val­ley serv­ing about 500 chil­dren and care­tak­ers.

When Amaya and her grand­mother first came to the cheery por­ta­ble class­room at Lake­wood Ele­men­tary School, the shy tod­dler wasn’t talk­ing or in­ter­act­ing much with the other kids. Now she’s chat­ter­ing away and ea­gerly joins ac­tiv­i­ties, from story time to art projects.

“She talks a lot,” Koch said. “She sings and she knows her num­bers. I ap­pre­ci­ate it so much.”

“She’s more hands-on and help­ing and in­de­pen­dent,” echoed Ed­ward Salazar, Amaya’s dad.

Be­fore the tod­dler and her grand­mother be­gan par­tic­i­pat­ing in Nana y Yo, they mostly spent quiet time with each other at home. But at Lake­wood, the class­room is full of stim­u­la­tion. The walls are cov­ered with a col­or­ful poster de­pict­ing the pop­u­lar chil­dren’s book “The Very Hun­gry Cater­pil­lar.” Puz­zles and Play-Doh blan­ket lit­tle ta­bles sur­rounded by tiny chairs. There’s a good morn­ing song in both English and Span­ish, and the ABCs. There’s con­stant talk about shapes and col­ors, and math is sub­tly in­jected into ev­ery­thing, from count­ing pump­kin seeds to sort­ing ob­jects.

Out­side is a play­ground with slides and climb­ing walls, tri­cy­cles for rid­ing and balls for bounc­ing.

Across Sil­i­con Val­ley, thou­sands of chil­dren like Amaya are cared for by fam­ily mem­bers, friends and neigh­bors in­stead of en­rolled in for­mal day care cen­ters and preschool pro­grams. While there are lots of rea­sons fam­i­lies choose such in­for­mal child care and plenty of ben­e­fits, there also can be some draw­backs. Low-in­come chil­dren, es­pe­cially, of­ten reach kinder­garten be­hind their higher-in­come peers whose fam­i­lies tend to be bet­ter po­si­tioned to of­fer rich early learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

And in Sil­i­con Val­ley, where the space be­tween the poor and the rich has widened in re­cent years, those gaps in school readi­ness are par­tic­u­larly stark.

“It feels like the whole kind of mid­dle class is dis­ap­pear­ing,” said Mary Hoshiko Haughey, the se­nior vice pres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions at YMCA of Sil­i­con Val­ley. “I’ve seen the need in­crease and the gap in­crease.”

Nana y Yo is aimed at re­duc­ing those dis­par­i­ties, in large part by help­ing care­tak­ers be the best pos­si­ble first teach­ers for the chil­dren they watch.

“That’s one of the mind shifts around this,” Hoshiko Haughey said. The pro­gram is geared to­ward not just chil­dren or their care­tak­ers, she said, but at both, si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

Mon­tijo re­mem­bers the first time Amaya, then a cou­ple of months into the pro­gram, told her teacher good morn­ing “out of the blue.”

“It was a re­ally cool change,” Mon­tijo said.

The pro­gram also gives the grand­par­ents and other peo­ple who care for young chil­dren a chance to con­nect with each other.

“FFN is not go­ing away,” Hoshiko Haughey said, us­ing the acro­nym for fam­ily, friend and neigh­bor care, the tech­ni­cal term for in­for­mal child care ar­range­ments. “But if you’re in an FFN sit­u­a­tion, it can be pretty iso­lat­ing.”

On days when they’re not at Lake­wood, Koch and Amaya some­times meet up with other Nana y Yo par­tic­i­pants at a lo­cal park. They swap clothes and tips.

“They’re giv­ing me ideas,” Koch said.

Kate Leary, whose 2-year-old twins Nora and Emma also par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram, agrees.

“With the ac­tiv­i­ties here, I kind of take them home,” Leary said, es­pe­cially on rainy win­ter days when the fam­ily is cooped up in­side. “I get an idea of what to do.”

Hoshiko Haughey launched Nana y Yo in San Jose af­ter re­search­ing sim­i­lar pro­grams, in­clud­ing Kalei­do­scope Play and Learn in Wash­ing­ton and Tutu and Me in Hawaii. Now, the pro­gram op­er­ates from Gil­roy up to Red­wood City, and YMCA has taken the model na­tion­ally. The pro­gram, which runs 36 weeks a year, has an 80 per­cent at­ten­dance rate year af­ter year, and has grown rapidly by word of mouth.

YMCA Sil­i­con Val­ley would like to open more sites lo­cally. There are plenty of schools and li­braries will­ing to host classes, and the or­ga­ni­za­tion has cul­ti­vated a ro­bust net­work of faith groups and schools that re­fer fam­i­lies. But the pro­gram is free and fund­ing is tight.

“The need is huge,” Hoshiko Haughey said.

She and her col­leagues hope that if they can launch more Nana y Yo cour­ses, YMCA Sil­i­con Val­ley can help make sure hun­dreds more chil­dren are ready for school.

Salazar, Amaya’s dad, hopes they suc­ceed. As he watched his daugh­ter, pig­tails bounc­ing, dash through the play­ground with her friends, shriek­ing with de­light, he ticked off more ways she’s grown. She’s more ac­tive phys­i­cally, he said, bet­ter at shar­ing and ea­ger to help clean up.

“I think,” he said, “this is a good prepa­ra­tion for kinder­garten.”

PHO­TOS BY RANDY VAZQUEZ — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Marivic Hoayun, left, plays a learn­ing game with her daugh­ters Vic­to­ria, cen­ter, and Gwen­dolyn at the YMCA’s Nana y Yo pro­gram at Lake­wood Ele­men­tary School in Sun­ny­vale. The early learn­ing pro­gram is geared to­ward chil­dren and their care­givers.

Aay­isha Gupta, 3, holds a ball on a jun­gle gym at the YMCA’s Nana y Yo pro­gram. The pro­gram pro­vides train­ing for care­givers with tools to en­hance early learn­ing.

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