A few minutes past ten on a Saturday morning, four-year-old Edwin walked with his father into an early education center on the corner of Macdonald and 11th street in Richmond, where a class for kids and their parents was about to begin.
Wearing a Superman costume, little Edwin then parted with his father as soon as they walked in and started scouting the place. He sat down next to a table, picked up a toy and started fiddling with it before going on to check the drawing board on another table.
“He was very shy when he first got here,” said Edwin’s 34-year-old father, Bernard. “He would stand behind me and feel afraid to talk to other people,” he said.
After attending a number of sessions for nearly a year at the First 5 Center−a non profit organization that offers health and education programs for parents and kids under five years old−Bernard said Edwin is now more willing to participate in activities and interact with other kids.
“I work a lot so I don’t really spend much time with my son at home. This class really offers me a chance to be with my kid and interact with him,” he said.
So they mingled with over a dozen kids and their parents or caregivers during the 90-minute class. They sat down in a circle to listen to a story from center teacher Consalo Toscano, which was followed by a drawing session. At the end of the class, the center gave each family a bag of three books, under a program sponsored by Schroder Family Foundation to promote parents reading books to their children.
Research shows that a child’s brain develops most dramatically in the first five years and that caregiving during these years shapes the way a child learns, thinks and behaves for the rest of his or her life. California passed a law in 1998 that mandates certain amounts of tobacco sales taxes go to fund heath and education programs for kids under five.
First 5 Center is one of the programs funded by this initiative. As of last year, the center in Contra Costa County has served nearly 1,733 families, but Alexina Rojas, director of the center, said she wished there had been more African-American and Asian families.
“The participants of our classes have been predominantly Latinos, who account for 70 percent of our overall composition,” Rojas said. “I encourage more African American and Asian families to join our classes.”
Rojas said the center initiated outreach programs to get in touch with community leaders and urge them to use their influence to convince more families to join the programs.