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'Parents as Teachers' program gives kids a head start before reaching school

Parent educators got creative during the pandemic in order to stay connected with local families needing support

SCOTTDALE, Ga. — Four-year-old Anazia knows the routine when Amber Gadsden comes to visit.

There's reading, writing, and spelling. The two also work on counting skills and word games to boost math and literacy skills. 

But such work is only part of the learning process. Anazia's parents are the other piece of the puzzle, the basis of what the "Parents as Teachers" program is all about. 

"We come into the homes, we partner with the parents to teach the development skills," Gadsden, a parent educator for the program, explained. "It's not just me. It's mom and dad. It's making sure they understand they are the first teacher in their child's life."

The program, which operates internationally via affiliates like Scottdale Early Learning, offers extra support for low-income or high-risk families in the first crucial years of a child's development. Parent educators like Gadsden work one-on-one with parents and children, with the aim of giving young kids a head start long before they reach school age. 

"When we build up a building, there should be a foundation," Anazia's dad Rizwan Bhanvadia explained. "The same thing with a child. Ms. Amber did it. She built a good foundation."

Scottdale Early Learning has offered the program for more than a decade to DeKalb families, many of whom are immigrant or refugees. The program is available starting from the prenatal period, even before a baby is born, through Pre-K or kindergarten, in order to give parents consistent access to early childhood development tools and resources. 

But during the pandemic, the team had to get creative as in-home visits were put on pause. Instead, the team fashioned new ways to stay connected with families via virtual lessons and online check-ins, even equipping some families with laptops in order to stay in touch.

"We didn't lose a lot of families because we were able to engage them virtually," Yolanda Marroquin, Director of Community-Based Programs at Scottdale Early Learning, explained. 

As a result of their virtual programming, the group even won a Losos Prize, awarded annually by the national Parents as Teachers organization.

Meanwhile, such efforts can be transformative for families. Anazia's mom, who was a teacher in India, even pursued getting her teaching certificate after working with Gadsden over the years. Anazia's dad summed up their experience with the program as a deeply personal one. 

"They are like family," Bhanvadia said. 

Find your local Parents as Teachers program here.

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