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ECHO PARK : Kids Get Head Start at Parents' School

June 20, 1993|IRIS YOKOI

The hollow ring of a school bell interrupted the children's performance of the spirited la raspa dance. But the preschoolers in the Head Start program at Manfred E. Evans Community Adult School continued on with the Mexican dance, accustomed to the sound and to the adults who streamed out of classrooms nearby.

The Head Start preschool at Evans celebrated its first anniversary last week, complete with refreshments and bilingual song-and-dance performances by the 32 children in the program, which provides four hours of free child care daily for adult students.

The federally funded Head Start program has been deemed a godsend by some of the Evans students because it not only provides educational activities and lunch for their children but also medical and dental examinations that many cannot afford on their own. And the preschool offers convenient child care while the parents are in class just steps away.

"We have different people from different places at Evans," said head teacher Carlos Guevara, who once was a student at Evans. "And they desperately need this."

As part of Head Start's nationwide expansion, the Foundation for Early Childhood Education, a nonprofit organization that administers the federal program at local schools, and the Los Angeles Unified School District started Head Start at Evans last year. Officials said Evans seemed a natural site because of the needs of its students, most of whom are new immigrants with meager incomes.

The foundation receives funds to run the program at Evans that equate to about $3,000 per child. The Los Angeles County Office of Education received $110,000 in federal Head Start funds to buy a new portable classroom for the Evans program.

The foundation also pays for a nurse practitioner to periodically conduct health exams at the school at 717 N. Figueroa St. If the nurse determines that a child needs additional care that the family cannot afford, the foundation refers the child to a doctor and pays for the service.

The foundation hired two teachers and two assistant teachers who together speak Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese as well as English. Parents are also required to volunteer 12 hours a month as teachers' aides. The teachers' language capabilities are especially crucial because most of the youngsters are of Central American, Chinese and Vietnamese descent and are being separated from their parents for the first time, Guevara said.

Many of the children are learning the languages of their peers.

At the anniversary party, the children sang a song in Chinese and in English. And Canh Chuong, a Vietnam native, said her 5-year-old daughter, Karen, has learned a few Spanish words as well as English. Chuong, a mother of three who lives in Chinatown, said the preschool has helped shy Karen open up: "She's really enjoying school. She learns songs and how to count numbers and she's learning more English and making friends."

During the past school year, child care was provided between 7:30 and 11:30 in the mornings. But the foundation plans to add an afternoon session in the fall, said Shirley Cloke, foundation director.

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