Colleen’s focus extends beyond the 120 children in her Warren Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) Preschool. As the program coordinator, Colleen believes that she and her staff must also help the parents of the 3- and 4-year-olds they teach. In this part of southeast Arkansas, which suffers from a shortage of doctors and prevalent obesity, the program stresses the basics such as nutrition, immunizations and exercise.
“Most of our parents are very young, so we do a lot to educate the parents. That’s a huge part of our program,” said Watkins. At least twice weekly, staff members call parents who aren’t able to pick up their children on time. Jobs keep many away. “At least 50 percent of the parents work some kind of job because their children are here,” Watkins said. “If it weren’t for having the free access here, they wouldn’t be able to work at McDonald’s or Fred’s.”
Warren’s ABC program also provides children and their parents head starts, whether for elementary school or for a competitive job market. The preschool is on a campus that includes the town’s high school, a vocational tech school, a daycare center for infants and toddlers and the Southeast Arkansas Community Based Education Center that offers an assortment of free resources for adult learners. Parents can drop off their children before heading to class themselves.
Day or night, they can learn English or work towards a GED. Those seeking better jobs can learn work skills, as well as how to interview and write resumes. Training to become a licensed practical nurse is also available. “It takes education to have choices and jobs, that’s what I always teach my classes,” said Gina Woodard, who teaches adult literacy at the center.
Watkins said about 35 percent of the ABC kids’ parents are enrolled in classes on campus, and these opportunities have helped many parents of the area’s burgeoning Hispanic population contribute to the community. Some of the Hispanic parents - about 22 percent of all parents - so liked mixing with the kids and preschool staff they decided to make a career out of it. “I have had parents who have gotten their ESL [English as a Second Language] certification, then GED, then went on to work at a local child care center because they enjoyed the process so much,” Watkins said.
A major part of her school’s appeal is the stability of its staff: no turnover among a dozen teachers in six years. That helps provide the structure young children and their families crave, Watkins said. Twenty children are on the waiting list.
- Colleen received child care vouchers funded by CCDBG.
- U.S. Census Bureau, “American FactFinder,” 2007 American Community Survey (accessed May 2011). Data came from the following tables: Statewide poverty percentages, GCT1701, Ratio of income to poverty level, C17002
- U.S. Census Bureau, “American FactFinder,” 2009 American Community Survey (accessed May 2011). Data came from the following tables: Statewide poverty percentages, GCT1701, Ratio of income to poverty level, C17002
- Half in Ten analysis of Table 1, 2007 State Expenditure Report, National Association of State Budget Officers.
- Half in Ten analysis of Table 1, 2009 State Expenditure Report, National Association of State Budget Officers.
- U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2009 through 2010, table C23008