Early Childhood Matters class aims to improve early education in Fort Worth

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Students leaned forward listening to their teacher lecture in both English and Spanish at the front of the classroom. Pens scratched over notes while toddlers played with tablets and puzzles down the hall.
In the Early Childhood Matters program, the parents are the students.
The program, run by the Fort Worth Library Youth and Teen Division, teaches parents techniques to better their child’s capacity to learn and relate their emotional needs. The program hosts three 10-week series throughout the year.
The first 10-week series focused on four subjects:

  1. Intro to Brain Development: Ages and Stages of Child Development
  2. Discipline: Guidance/Positive Discipline-Approaches and Principles
  3. Communication in the Family
  4. Discussions of School Readiness

The second and third series are subject to change based on the reactions and results from the first series.
Early Childhood Matters (ECM) approaches educating families based on community research collected by UTA and Dr. T. Berry Brazelton’s Touchpoints practice and principles. This program helps instructors and staff understand how to work with families and support them at vital stages of their child’s development.
The program has been hosted in community centers and library branches throughout Fort Worth for 10 years. It has 10 locations in Fort Worth.

Minerva Gates, an ECM coordinator, said the program preps attendees for parenting by helping them understand childhood development.
Zero to Three, a nonprofit organization and resource for the ECM curriculum, says that 85 percent of children’s brains are developed before they are three years old. The nonprofit also says that children’s success in school and in life improve when their adult caregivers’ knowledge, skills and behaviors are based in an understanding of how children grow and learn in the early years.
“Parents are children’s first and most important teachers,” Gates said.
One of the classes at the Worth Heights Neighborhood Center teaches predominantly Spanish-speaking families to work with their children. A public educator for ECM, Victoria Capik, teaches five classes a week in multiple locations in both English and Spanish.
Capik, who has taught for ECM for over six years, said she knows the value of teaching kids early no matter the language barrier.
“Depending on the locations of where the child is raised, their parents aren’t aware of what their child needs in order to be able to enter school with confidence,” Capik said.
Many families in Fort Worth face a language barrier when trying to teach their children before sending them to public schools. Gates said ECM strives to help those families by providing instructors who can bridge language gaps.
Gates added that teachers like Capik make their program special.
“Victoria’s passion resonates in the community because she has the ability to empathize with the child and help the loving adult see why it’s important to be the child’s first teacher,” said Gates.
Capik instructed parents on positive reinforcement and discipline. She translated in English and Spanish.

Gates said a child’s school readiness is important and parents play a key role. They will apply helpful behaviors, she said, when they know what to do and are encouraged by their community.
The program is free for parents and children. The city funds approximately $750,000 for the salaries of five specialists and the coordinator. It also pays for books given to families at each session, snacks for children, operating supplies and tablets for the children to use during parents’ class time.
Capik said that this program is more than just a class. Their budget also provides their children with books they can keep.
The books are gifts to parents and children from the program in order for them to not only exercise their reading skills, but also practice the specific lessons the class has focused on.
Hear what else Capik had to say about establishing reading habits early on.

This is one of the many ways ECM encourages learning for children in the program.
Michelle Lee is an early learning specialist assigned to the children programming of ECM. She develops age appropriate activities for the program, oversees children’s engagement in said activities and helps develop training for the child care aids.
Lee describes how the programs the children learn through playtime tie into the state educational guidelines so there is more “intentional learning.” Parents are also able to learn about the certain apps and techonology their children will be exposed to when they enter school. She says that it is important for children and parents to use the technology together.
“Technology is a part of our lives now and forever on, and it’s also in the Pre-K learning guidelines so we’re helping them meet that need before they get to kindergarten,” Lee said.
Tablets are one of the many education tools child care aids use with children in the program.

Maricela Mendoza, a child care aid, said that watching the progress of the children from series one until they enter kindergarten has been “a special gift that is hard to explain.”
One parent talked about the progress her family has made through in the Early Childhood Development program.
“I learned how to help my child be more independent. I was doing everything for her not realizing I was not helping her development but rather delaying it,” a parent said.
Capik said she’s fortunate to work with these families and see them grow.
“They went from the uncertainty of what the first step into education is to now the potential of what their child can become and what colleges they can attend,” she said.