On a slightly chilly December morning a group of small children stand in a playground at the El Centrito Family Learning Center and learn some new dance moves.
They wiggle their fingers, shake their hands and nod their heads to the beat of the music on the instructions of their teacher, Sonia Marroquin, as some smiling parents watch and supervise the group.
It's all part of the day's hands-on lesson: to learn body parts through dance.
The children and their parents are part of the Family Literacy Cooperative at El Centrito, which allows parents to attend adult school to learn English while leaving their children in a cooperative preschool environment.
The parents attend adult school four days a week and are required to help at the preschool a fifth day. Through a rotation of parents, there is always at least one parent around to help the teacher in each class, where the children learn socializing skills as well as daily lessons.
The program, which runs from August to June, serves 24 children ages 2 to 3 and their mostly Spanish-speaking parents, who attend classes two blocks away at the Oxnard Adult School.
"What we're able to do is take motivated … parents that don't have an opportunity to study the English language or GED and create a program that allows them to," said Joseph Castaneda, interim executive director of El Centrito.
For many of these parents, Castaneda said, staying dedicated to their studies is difficult because of the responsibilities that come with raising children. The program, he said, allows parents the chance to study while at the same time offering their children a preschool program.
One parent, whose child had a heart condition, told Castaneda that learning English meant being able to keep her daughter healthy. For other parents, it's the ability to help their kids with homework or the chance to practice a career they trained in.
For Alba Escalante, the program has greatly benefited her 3-year-old son, Limberth, who has a speech impediment. Through lessons in the program, he's slowly improved his speech and has gained more confidence, she said.
"It's a great program for me and my boy," said Escalante, who has been with the program for two years. "It's great because the kids learn and so do we."
Through the generosity of Times readers and a match by the McCormick Foundation, $424,500 was granted to local literacy programs this year as a result of the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign.
The Holiday Campaign, part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation Fund, raises contributions to support established literacy programs run by nonprofit organizations that serve low-income children, adults and families who are reading below grade levels, at risk of illiteracy or who have limited English proficiency.
Donations are tax-deductible as permitted by law and matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Donor information is not traded or published without permission. Donate online at latimes.com/donate or by calling (800) 518-3975. All gifts will receive a written acknowledgment.