early childhood kits

YMCA preschooler Abigail Tarago is ready to go home with her learning kit.

“Parents were not prepared to be homeschool teachers,” said Andrea Sulsona, executive director of Early Childhood Educational Programs for the YMCA of Greater Long Beach. “Suddenly, they were home, trying to teach their kids, but they had no teaching materials. Some did not even have basic supplies like scissors and glue.”

The problem required an immediate solution. Sulsona works in partnership with Long Beach Day Nursery Executive Director Whitney Leathers and Young Horizons Executive Director Sarah Soriano. The three women share ideas, observations, and resources to strengthen their preschool programs. When COVID-19 forced their schools to close, the executive directors started searching for solutions together.

“Our families were facing a lot of hurdles,” Soriano said. “They needed resources. Teachers were presenting projects and discovering that families had little to no materials at home.”

“We surveyed our families to determine their needs,” Leathers said. “They told us they wanted activities for their little people. We realized we needed to get materials into the hands of our families, so we decided to apply for a grant for learning kits.”

Leathers wrote a grant proposal to Best Start Central Long Beach (BSCLB). Founded by First 5 LA, BSCLB is led by the joint efforts of The Nonprofit Partnership (TNP) and Long Beach Forward. Its leadership team, comprised of Central Long Beach residents and organizations, evaluates grant proposals for programs designed to support children in their first five years of life.

“The community believed this would be a great proposal to fund,” said David McGill, the Best Start program coordinator at TNP.

The three preschools were awarded a grant for $25,000. The money was used to purchase Early Childhood Education (ECE) kits for vulnerable families in Long Beach. Four different kinds of kits were assembled: infant kits, toddler kits, preschool kits, and arts/crafts kits. Teachers helped the directors decide which kit would be the most suitable for each family.

Boxes included a variety of educational tools, ranging from books and manipulatives to alphabet games and sorting/counting products. Team members from Lakeshore Learning, which is headquartered in nearby Carson, offered recommendations on age-appropriate components, sorted the materials into the four different groupings, and delivered the boxes to each of the school sites.

“Our parents are extremely grateful to receive this extra layer of support,” Leathers said. “We really believe in the importance of parent partnership. These kits make it possible for parents to implement school activities at home.”

Sulsona said that parents are excited to take an active role in their children’s learning process. She said that some families have already used their materials to create an educational space in their home.

“These donations are supporting our goal of helping bridge the distance learning disparities for some of the communities most at risk and financially vulnerable children and families,” Sulsona said.

“We have to remain connected and meet our families’ needs,” Soriano said. “Working together (with Leathers and Sulsona) has made all the difference. The three of us lean on each other for advice and laugh and cry together as we face each challenge. When I talk to other preschool directors, I hear that collaboration like this doesn’t happen in other places. Kudos to Long Beach and the way people work together and support one another here.”

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