Maria Matos: The Power of Advocacy, Investments in Early Learning
Guest blog by Maria Matos, president and CEO of the Latin American Community Center
There are three traits that the Hispanic community has in common: our faith in God, our dedication to family, and the notion that we as a people are extremely patriotic to our country.
Faith is what inspired my dad to move our family from Camden, New Jersey to Wilmington in 1964. It was this faith and service to community that inspired him to open the first Spanish language Pentecostal church in Delaware. My dad was not only motivated by his faith and community service but also made sure that he instilled these traits to me and my siblings.
Today, the Hispanic community is surging—in Wilmington and throughout Delaware. This is why at the Latin American Community Center, where I serve as president and CEO, we strive to support our community in a variety of ways—from family immigration services, short- and long-term case management, financial literacy education, substance abuse prevention, and more. But perhaps our most critical work happens at our early development center (EDC).
This did not happen overnight, strategic early investments set us on the right direction. The Rodel Foundation’s relationship with the philanthropic Social Venture Partners shined a light on the LACC and the work we were doing here. With Rodel’s help, we were able to secure critical funding, which we used to attract top talent and made not only environmental changes—but we transformed the EDC into a top-quality, inner-city preschool provider. Today we offer children and their families a comprehensive program that meets the highest academic standards and prepares children from six-weeks to five years old to meet developmental goals for their age group. As a program that serves primarily low-income, minority families who reside in urban communities, we provide quality, affordable and neighborhood-based early educational programming.
We went from babysitting to performing above and beyond the line of a typical preschool which includes the Creative Curriculum, Expeditionary Learning framework and Dual Language. Today, thanks to those early investments, we are flourishing. We are a proud Five-Star program serving more than 131 children. We have four-year-olds undertaking case studies in our Expeditionary Learning Program and early childhood educators with advanced degrees.
Our EDC program offers a safe, secure and enriching environment that allows for physical, socio-emotional, cognitive and language development. Each year, more than 90 percent of our pre-K students demonstrate kindergarten readiness based on developmental indicators and data collected using the Teaching Strategies GOLD assessment system. In addition to an educational makeover, we embraced Nemours Health and Prevention’s ‘5-2-1- Almost None’ formula for a healthy life style. We added five more fruits and vegetables to our students’ diets, no screen time, one hour or more of physical activity, and eliminated all sugary foods and drinks. I consider our center to be one of Wilmington’s best-kept secrets.
We recognize Rodel as an educational advocacy partner. Rodel has been relentless in obtaining results in high-quality early learning opportunities and assessments, the development of the Stars Quality Rating Program, Delaware Readiness Teams, and tiered reimbursement. Today, I am proud to serve on Rodel’s Advisory Council.
To me, advocacy is wanting for others what you would want for your own children or family. It sounds simple enough, but the power of advocacy has transformed early childhood learning in Delaware, just as it has at the LACC. Our collective voices have reached the top offices of our state, where Governor Markell included $22 million in his budget last year for early education and is proposing $11.3 million in state funds to sustain early childhood education growth and quality in Delaware.
That’s the power of advocacy and the importance of investing in our very youngest Delawareans. You can also become an advocate for early learning. I urge you to find ways to get involved at your neighborhood early learning center, to contact your legislator and voice your support for the governor’s budget request. Gov. Jack Markell proposed his annual fiscal state budget—and of the $4.1 billion in total, about $11.3 million was requested to further early childhood education in Delaware. Those funds would go to support, among other things, initiatives like the Delaware Readiness Teams, the Delaware Stars Program, and tiered reimbursement, which provides ongoing technical assistance and grants to early learning programs and professionals to help them increase their qualifications and quality standards.
Early education is the key—I will vouch for that until the end of my days. And I continue to have faith that if you start early enough, you can make a world of difference.