ADELPHI – Carolee Botts, a pre-kindergarten teacher, kneels on the floor to help a group of her 4- and 5-year-old students put together a 48-piece puzzle of a bustling town scene.
When one of her students gives up saying he can’t put together any more of the pieces, she gives him hints of what type of piece to look for — the missing front of the car, the rest of the hot air balloon.
The student finds it and, success. Another part of the puzzle has been put together.
Every day at the Judith P. Hoyer Family Learning Center in Adelphi, teachers like Botts are pushing their preschool-aged students to succeed socially and mentally.
This “Judy Center,” based at Cool Spring Elementary in Prince George’s County, is the first center established in the state. Another 12 are expected to be fully functional by June 2002.
The Maryland State Department of Education is funding construction and enhancement of the centers in different districts, including Baltimore, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County.
The Adelphi center is more than a preschool. This former Catholic high school building contains 13 different agencies that support nearby low-income families. Among them are Even Start, an adult education program, and the Family Support Center, which works to build family relationships.
The purpose of the center, founded by Judith P. Hoyer, former Prince George’s County supervisor of early childhood education and the late wife of U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, is to maximize the learning potential of children from birth to age 6.
The center prepares children for school by educating their entire families, said Janine Bacquie, supervisor of early childhood education for Prince George’s County.
“Helping the parents is helping the students,” she said.
Parents learn to communicate with their children through simple acts such as reading books to them.
“The overall benefits [of the centers] are that you can bring services to the family and children in one location that’s accessible to the parent,” Bacquie said.
In one classroom, three children act out a song about snowmen. Down the hall, past walls decorated with smiling fish and grinning vegetables, students with learning disabilities learn alongside regular education students in what are called “inclusion classes.”
Core services at each Judy Center – child care, family programs and health services – will be the same, said Dorothy Giersch, coordinator of the Judy Hoyer program initiative for the Maryland State Department of Education. But they will be tailored to their neighborhoods.
“Each center will look a little different and be distinctive based on the community they are serving,” she said.
At Cool Spring Elementary, for example, about 75 percent of students take English-as-a-second-language classes, according to statistics. Every agency within the Adelphi center offers bilingual education, said Giersch.
The center recently offered a program on “culturalization,” teaching immigrant parents about different American customs.
“They made accommodations for the fact that the population they’re serving has those type of needs,” Giersch said.
Teachers use a “multi-sensory approach” to teach students from non-native English speaking homes, through pictures, music and movement, Botts said.
“You need to give them the language,” she said.
At the Even Start program in the Adelphi center, a group of mothers sit around a table working on math problems. Some of them do the work simply to become acquainted with the American style of mathematics, while others are preparing for a GED, said Valeria Slaughter, a resource teacher for the program.
One Even Start participant was Erica Martinez. When she came to the United States from Mexico eight years ago, she spoke little English. She joined the program five years ago, when her daughter was 9 months old.
Now Martinez, 26, has her GED and is a “parent helper,” or teacher aide, for the program.
The Even Start program is “good for parents because it helps parents help [their] kids with things they learn in school,” Martinez said.
When her daughter joined prekindergarten classes at age 4, she didn’t speak any English, Martinez said. But, by spending two-and-a- half hours per day there, she quickly learned the language.
At the Adelphi center, the state grant will be used to hire a center coordinator, Bacquie said. It also may fund extended child care service hours.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening recently announced in his Early Education Initiative that he would include additional funding for the centers for 2002, as per the Commission on Education Finance, Equity and Excellence. However, Glendening funded just $4 million of the commission’s $8 million request.