One of the five pre-school classes at the Ficalora Family Foundation Head Start Center sits quietly listening to their teacher, Anita Alvarez, read, “Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch when tears start rolling down her face.
Since last September, Alvarez and the rest of the staff at the Head Start Center have been preparing 87 four-year-olds – mostly from low-income families – for kindergarten. Their “moving up” ceremony on August 6 marked the end of their pre-K schooling, but the lessons learned there will last forever.
“I was able to involve every parent and use every language in the classroom. It’s the first time I was able to implement that curriculum,” said teacher Sandra Martinez who had 17 multi-cultural students in her class. “Some came here without knowing how to write their name but they are leaving knowing how to write and socialize. I’m very proud of them.”
Moving Up Day was loud and proud at the Head Start Center in Woodside with each of the five classrooms putting on a show for parents and teachers through art, songs, dancing and drama while sharing traditional dishes from their country of origin. Alvarez’s classroom alone had students from Ecuador, Lebanon, Mexico and Paraguay.
“It’s really been not just the growth of the child, in terms of their own development and preparation for kindergarten, but also the development of the family,” said Linda Rodriguez, director of early childhood services. “For some, this is the only social support network they have.”
One by one, children received their diploma, posed for a photo and sat down to cheer for the fellow students.
“I really liked getting my certificate,” said recent graduate Mohammed Khan with his mother at his side.
The Head Start Center was made possible by Queens native and philanthropist, Joe Ficalora, chairman, President and CEO of New York Community Bancorp who invested $200,000 to refurbish and expand the early childhood program. In September, a new batch of students will join the Head Start Center but it is obvious that the teachers will miss this graduating class.
“I’m happy they are graduating, but it’s sad to see them go,” said student teacher William Shein.