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State subsidized preschools need support

When my daughter was three, I was in big trouble. I’d found what I thought was the perfect school for my son, a parent participation charter school. But I had to take one morning out of my schedule to spend in my son’s classroom, and I didn’t know if I could do it.

As Teacher Debbie held out the egg, it hatched in her hand. Magic!

As Teacher Debbie held out the egg, it hatched in her hand. Magic!

My daughter was — as I’d heard another parent describe his daughter — a “force of nature.” She was as impressive as a hurricane, strong as a redwood tree, relentless as the waves that hit the beach. It was exhausting, and the thought of spending one of the three mornings she was in a private preschool not by myself was killing me. Her three mornings at preschool were my lifeline to something close to sanity.

But there was a light on the horizon, and that light was named Teacher Debbie.

My daughter had never had an easy time in preschool. When she entered at 18 months for two short mornings a week, she had a saintly teacher, Lisa, who took her in hand and ended up with a good respect of her. But then she was handed on to the next classroom up, and things were a total disaster. Her teacher really didn’t want to work that hard. (I found it hard to blame her; I didn’t want to work that hard, either.)

But then I found out that there was a State run preschool on the campus of my son’s new school, and in exchange for one morning of working in the preschool, I got a free morning to work in my son’s classroom as well.

Teacher Debbie is an amazing woman. I wouldn’t mention her background as a biker gal, except that it is so much part of her persona. The combination of being a loving, respectful preschool teacher and wearing a Harley t-shirt is just too great. Teacher Debbie knew nothing about my daughter when we started (frankly, I didn’t want to jeopardize my chances of having my daughter attend, and I knew that her behavior problems at her other school might give pause). So a few amazing weeks after we enrolled, I mentioned to Teacher Debbie as we stood watching the kids that my daughter had had no behavioral difficulties in her classroom.

“Why should she?” Teacher Debbie asked with a self-assured innocence. Why, indeed. This girl who had nearly brought one teacher to tears by getting her entire class to start chanting “poopie-head” for the better part of an hour was simply normal in Teacher Debbie’s classroom.

Teacher Debbie with kids -- we are all connected.

Teacher Debbie with kids -- we are all connected.

The preschool was special in many ways. Because it was actually an Adult School program, it was the parents who were the students. They were required to work in the classroom, where Debbie would mentor them in positive parenting techniques, bring snacks, so Debbie could help them give deep thought to what healthy food was, and go to evening meetings where they would hear talks by various child development experts. Many of the parents were very young. Most were not highly educated.

And they were a joy to be with. This program gave them a roadmap for positive growth as parents. It gave them such an amazing mentor (from biker gal to mom to preschool teacher). It gave them time to be with other parents and find out that their trials were our trials.

For me, it gave me a place where I, and my daughter, were normal. We were just parents. She was not a behavior problem with a legal document specifying how and why she would be kicked out of her school. I was not a mother who had a daughter who was shunned because, somehow, other parents seemed to fear that my daughter’s behavior might be communicative.

Why am I inspired to write about all this now when things are going so well for me and my daughter?

Because things aren’t going well for Teacher Debbie and the others of her ilk in Santa Cruz County and beyond. As you may have noticed, our State does not have a budget yet. The reason we don’t have a budget is that we need a 2/3 majority to pass a budget, and in these times of polarized political parties, there’s no such thing as a 2/3 majority, except if you’re voting on whether we should like apple pie.

Because we don’t have a budget, our state-run preschools are running out of money. As far as I know, none has closed yet, but closures are imminent. Read this story about the one in Live Oak School District. Our State-run preschools are having to borrow money to pay their teachers. I doubt they’re buying supplies anymore; that’s probably up to the parents, who are already largely low-income and stretched beyond their capacity.

Amongst all the horrible things that are happening because of our current economic and political climate, this is surely one with long-lasting effects. These children — and even more, these parents — need their preschools. It’s such a cheap investment in the good of our society. Recent studies have shown that if you want to reach children, reach out to their parents. For all the money that gets dumped into early childhood education, the little that gets funneled to educating the parents has such a greater effect.

I had read every parenting book I could get my hands on, in a desperate search for advice. So I wasn’t looking for education. But I was looking for support, and I got it. When I asked Teacher Debbie why she thought my daughter did so well in her classroom, she paused thoughtfully for a moment.

“She’s a strong girl,” Teacher Debbie said, “And I think the world needs more strong girls.”

Spoken like the truest biker gal turned preschool teacher. A woman who has changed lives.

Posted in Culture, Education.

2 Responses

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  1. leighannc says

    Fabulous article, expressed very persuasively! The only question I had at the end, was what I could do…what action I could take…to help right now. What can we do about state-run preschools being shut down? Perhaps a link to a petition? Or mention of whom our state government we should be contacting to let them know these schools matter to us…

    Otherwise fab. I am rooting for Teacher Debbie!

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Mandate, schmandate – Avant Parenting linked to this post on October 25, 2010

    […] people to whom these mandates are given take them seriously. As I wrote in a previous post, our state-run preschools are a wonder. They do great things for families, for young parents, for […]

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