Smart Start students have fund with holiday games at the Winter Celebration.
HOUSTON – Dec. 20, 2017 – More than 130 parents and children turned out Friday for a Winter Celebration as part of the Spring ISD Smart Start early childhood outreach program.
The gathering, hosted at the district’s Learning Center on Ella Blvd., featured refreshments, an awards ceremony, and a variety of winter-themed games and activities. The event also marked the Smart Start graduation of two local families who have each been enrolled for four full semesters in the home instruction program, which brings staff into families’ homes for weekly training sessions with parents and their pre-school-age children to improve school readiness.
“We have 48 children right now that we serve,” said Vilma Gomez, the department’s coordinator of parent practices. “It’s hard work sometimes, but it’s all worth it. The parents who go through the program are thinking about education differently, and we know these kids are going to enter Pre-K better prepared, with skills they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Scarlett Flowers, whose three-year-old son Kent has spent about a year in Smart Start, has been happy with the results. She praised both the program and Kent’s home instructor, Nataly Hogan.
“When I heard about the program, I knew I wanted to sign him up,” Flowers said. “I’ve learned a lot of strategies, and he’s come so far this year. He gets excited whenever he sees Miss Nataly. It’s a good program, and she’s been more than a teacher. She’s been a counselor, and she’s been a friend – both to my son and to me.”
Gomez made a similar point in discussing the program. “The home instructors become resources for the parents as well,” she said. “You do become involved in these families’ lives, and they grow to trust you. It’s more than just early childhood instruction.”
For some parents, like Tiffany and Tommy Grant, completing Smart Start can be bittersweet. Their daughter Tinsley – who will turn four in March – has now finished her two years in the program, and will be entering prekindergarten at Heritage Elementary School next fall.
“Through the years I could tell it was really beneficial for her,” Tommy Grant said. “Her instructor encouraged us to read with her and do activities with her to help her learn and develop. I think a lot of families would benefit from this, especially if the parents are willing to work with their kids.”
His feelings were echoed by his wife, who has spent the last two years faithfully doing the prescribed activities each week with their daughter. “I think it’s an amazing opportunity,” Tiffany Grant said. “Every district should have it, it’s a great program.”
The Smart Start program is a big commitment, said Gomez, not just for the district staff who must develop ongoing relationships with the children and families they serve, but also for the parents, who commit to using the techniques and practices taught to them to keep their children moving forward.
“One of the biggest challenges is to make sure what happens in that one-hour home visit translates to the rest of the week,” Gomez said, “to make sure the parents are learning and developing as well.”
Leticia Grounds, who oversees the program as Spring ISD’s executive director of family and community engagement, would love to see programs like Smart Start reach even more families. In reflecting on the fall semester and the large gathering of children and parents currently involved in the program, she was also positive about the impact being made in Spring ISD.
“I see the changes over time,” Grounds said. “It’s building confidence in the parents. It’s building confidence in the children. Some have limited English proficiency, some are economically disadvantaged, and some are both. But this opportunity can have an impact. It can change lives.”