Union president stumps for early childhood education

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File photo: Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers, speaks during day one of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) at the Pepsi Center August 25, 2008 in Denver, Colorado.

The president of the one and a half million member American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, visited a Head Start program in Watts to highlight the importance of early childhood education.

The Kedren Head Start program is surrounded by the notorious Nickerson Gardens housing projects. As a dozen toddlers lined up for outdoor play, their teacher reminded them to flap their arms like silent birds or butterflies.

"That’s my son and that’s my niece. My daughter here, she came through Kedren as well years back," said 38-year-old Jose Solis.

He said odds are children will not excel or live into adulthood if they grow up in this gang infested neighborhood. "The surroundings ain't too good but it’s what we make of it," Solis said.

This and other early childhood centers, he said, are helping improve the odds. Solis volunteers in the morning as he did when his ten year-old daughter enrolled here. Parenthood changed him. Gang tattoos on his neck and hands, including a teardrop under his left eye reveal his life before that.

"I’m not proud of it but that was the lifestyle I grew up in. I paid my dues to society. I did my time, you know. It’s a learning experience. I’m there for the children as well as I don’t want to see no one go through the stuff I went through," he said.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said head start programs like this one in Watts help level the playing field for disadvantaged kids.

"When you help kids and give them a quality, accessible, early childhood opportunity, they get a head start in life," she said.

While the center’s federal funding is secure, state funding is not, so Weingarten called on lawmakers to protect early childhood education from funding cuts.

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