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New Long Beach preschool aims to empower educators

Teacher Cathy Barraza sings a song and acts out the motions with preschoolers at Educare Los Angeles, Long Beach. Priska Neely

Only a few months into the year at a new school in Long Beach, preschool teacher Cathy Barraza has a new outlook on her work.

"It's a career now – it's not just a job where I clock in, I clock out," says Barraza, one of the teachers at Educare Los Angeles at Long Beach. 

Educare schools follow a model that aims to narrow the achievement gap by bringing high-quality preschools to neighborhoods where families normally wouldn't be able to afford it. As part of the approach, teachers get extensive training.

"We're always in the learning process and we're always implementing it and we have the support,'" said Barraza, who came into the job with a degree in child development and 15 years of experience working with children.

"Being part of Educare has actually made me feel like a professional."

She said a key component of her growth has been the coaching she receives in the classroom. Teachers at Educare schools have mentoring supervisors who observe and provide feedback during lessons and after class.

"My job is to support teachers so that they can be a better them, a better professional, a better leader, a better educator so that they can impact their students in a stronger more effective way," said mentoring supervisor Sharon Barker. 

Educare Long Beach currently serves over 100 3- and 4-year olds on the campus of Barton Elementary School. Construction is underway on a brand new facility next door that will will be able to accommodate nearly 200 children aged zero to five year-round, starting in the summer of 2018. This site is the first school to follow the Educare model in Southern California. 

"Educare believes in the idea of creating opportunities for all students to achieve their dreams and that starts from birth," said Maria Harris, principal of the new school. "We're very fortunate to have that opportunity."

The program serves low-income children, as it is primarily funded by the federal preschool program, Head Start and state preschool dollars. The Educare model launched 15 years ago in Chicago and there are 21 other sites around the country, including one in an impoverished Silicon Valley neighborhood. 

Another pillar of the program is getting families engaged and the schools employ family engagement specialists who address concerns from parents and make home visits.

"It's great to see the families go from, 'I don't know about this' to now, they're coming on their own and asking for help," said Harris. "We're getting a lot of parent volunteers, they want to be in the classroom, they want to learn more."