Four-year-old Javier Ortega and his classmates got a break from their regular routine Monday at the Valerio branch of Head Start.
Instead of arts and crafts and story time on the rug, more than 60 preschoolers took turns donning a giant set of headphones and throwing colorful blocks into a bucket. They were having fun, with a purpose.
A representative with the John Tracy clinic, a Los Angeles-based center for deaf children, was testing the youngsters' hearing as part of a free medical screening to ensure that the children are physically ready for school.
The students responded to beeps they heard by pitching the blocks into a yellow bucket.
"Some of them didn't pass," said John Tracy audiometrist Louise Gomez, adding that the screenings also find other problems. "Children get chronic ear infections and don't complain or tell their parents about them," she said.
Parents of the children who failed the test will be directed to affordable health care, Gomez said.
The screening process often serves as the only form of health care for the children in Head Start, said health coordinator Betty Zamorano-Pedregon.
"Low-income families don't always have medical care," she said. "Some of them don't have the luxury to get standard lab tests done. They often have to take several buses or walk from lab to lab."
Officials with the Child Care Resource Center, which runs the Valerio branch of Head Start and two others, works to find affordable health care for all 400 registered children, spokeswoman Barbara Pressman said.
"This [program] isn't just about preparing kids for school," she said. "It's about the empowerment of families and improving the quality of child care."
For Javier, however, the purpose of the screening was much simpler. Asked what the activity was for, he grinned and said, "dinosaur," pointing to the blue sticker he got for taking the test.