The best foundation for children ages 0-4 has nothing to do with gadgets, tablets or high-tech toys. To prepare toddlers for success in life, parents should go old-school – by talking, singing, and storytelling with their kids.
Jurupa Unified helps families do that, through a research-based program called "ABC Music and Me." The curriculum, designed to enhance school readiness in children, helps parents understand the power they wield – and the difference they can make – as their child's first teacher.
The program has done so well that the district on Dec. 3 received a Golden Bell Award for its work on ABC Music and Me. The statewide honor, conferred by the California School Boards Association, recognizes programs that are innovative, sustainable, achieve results and meet the needs of all students.
"It was humbling just to be considered and a great validation for the many programs that we put together to serve the community," said Mr. Jose Campos, director of Parent Involvement and Community Outreach for Jurupa Unified.
ABC Music and Me started in September 2015, after Superintendent Elliott Duchon requested more programs to support families before preschool, Mr. Campos said.
"When we first offered it, 50 percent of the calls were from parents who wanted to drop off their kids," said Mr. Campos. "We said, 'No, the program is designed to enhance the parent-child bond.' "
The coursework centers on stories, music and movement. Songs include "Wheels on the Bus" and "Shiny Dinah," and parents are shown how to guide toddlers through words, sounds, motions, shapes, color and more.
"We're not only supporting vocabulary development, but also teaching parents how to interact with the child in ways that stimulate brain growth," said Mr. Campos, who completed the program himself as a father. "You're teaching rhyme, alliteration, and just different concepts that support school readiness."
About 120 families have attended the free, 16-week program in its first two years, with some sessions in English and others in Spanish. The weekly, hour-long classes are held at a training center adjacent to West Riverside Elementary School.
And parents love the curriculum: Not only was it created by educators based on research of young brain development, but the learning is fun and continues well beyond class. Each family can check out (for three weeks) or buy (for $9) a take-home kit that includes a CD, a book with a story, and instruments such as egg shakers, rattles, or rhythm sticks. "What parents report back on the surveys is the enjoyment they get from the activities," Mr. Campos said.
Even better, an incredible 88 percent of Jurupa Valley children assessed in the program improved their school readiness after completing the lessons, according to evaluations conducted pre- and post-curriculum. The district measured children's progress in the areas of literacy skills, music skills, social skills, motor skills, mathematics skills and family involvement.
Thanks to this success, the district earned a grant from First 5, a tax-funded nonprofit that supports early childhood development. The $9,300 award, for the calendar year 2017, will enable ABC Music to serve an additional 75 families starting in January, Mr. Campos said. The grant will also fund a pilot program to bring ABC Music, via home visits, to 12 families with infants up to age 1.
ABC Music and Me is one of about 15 programs run by the Department of Parent Involvement and Community Outreach, whose mission is to support and strengthen families while building protective factors for children. "One of the keys is that while a single program's being honored, it's a piece to the larger puzzle that does all these things," said Mr. Campos. Other interlocking parts range from food and clothing distribution to nutrition and exercise programs to connections with broader community resources such as health and dental care.
Perhaps most fundamentally, ABC Music and Me helps build community ties, Mr. Campos said. The families who embrace the curriculum also draw on other programs such as potluck family night, where Jurupa Valley residents bond with fellow parents they might not have met otherwise.
"It brings families and community together," Mr. Campos said. The program is one of many ways the district affirms the value of personal interaction in an era of gadgets, tablets and technology.
For more information, please contact the Department of Parent Involvement and Community Outreach at (951) 222-7872.