Elevating education: Nonprofit opens northwest headquarters to prep kids for school

The Las Vegas-based Children’s Advocacy Alliance says 70 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in Nevada do not attend a preschool program, the worst statistic in the country, according to the national Kids Count Data Book from 2010-12.

For the past 15 years, another Las Vegas-based nonprofit, Family to Family Connection, has been giving a boost to such children. In early October, it opened its new headquarters at 7151 Cascade Valley Court, Suite 104, near MountainView Hospital. It moved from its previous location at 4775 Teco Ave. The southwest space had been donated until the donor’s lease was up. The nonprofit group is renting the new location.

Monica Aldana has been bringing her daughter, Alina, 2, to Family to Family for the past five months after learning about the group from a flier at the library.

“I like that she can develop a lot of skills,” Aldana said. “I’ve noticed a difference. She’s more sociable, more friendly.”

Scheduled classes include When Stories Come to Life with Erica, Dancing with Miss Jenny, and Silly Songs and Dancing. Some classes are also offered in Spanish. Classes are for children up to age 5. There is a $5 fee per class per family or families can pay $25 per month for unlimited classes.

Readiness for school includes learning to take turns, cooperation and how to behave appropriately within groups. This day, the Explore and Learn class included a craft, bowling and reading. Activities were high on the fun factor but also included fine motor skills, color identification, creativity and following instructions.

Programs at this stage of development have long-range consequences, according to Family to Family executive director Dianne Farkas, who added that in order for Nevada to move forward economically, more students need to graduate from high school.

“It’s clear these days that graduation rates depend upon what happens to children before they even start school,” she said. “If they start school without English language and (without) delays or disabilities being detected, they don’t do well. They don’t read by third grade, and they fail. They don’t graduate. So (being the state with) the highest percentage of children not in preschool, in my opinion, is directly related to the fact that we have the highest percentage of disconnected youth, 18- to 24-year-olds who hang out and do nothing. We’re also the highest in the nation for that, so those two things are totally connected.”

Bringing a toddler to interact with peers means that the parents get out and socialize, too, Farkas said.

“Isolation is a fertile ground for child abuse,” she said.

Family to Family has had no state funding since 2011, when budget cuts were made. It currently operates on about $145,000 per year, with part of that coming from a $65,000 grant from MGM Resorts Foundation this year, plus whatever funds are brought in by its annual Touch-A-Truck event. The next one is planned for April.

Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod sits on Family to Family’s board. She used its services for breastfeeding instruction when she had her daughter, Molly, now 7.

“We used to say, ‘Get ready for school,’ and (people thought) it was about buying school supplies, and we’d go, ‘No, getting ready for school starts at birth. It’s about parenting and knowing what to do,’ ” Bilbray-Axelrod said.

Family to Family is also negotiating a three-year lease for a location at the Cambridge Recreation Center, 3930 S. Cambridge St., near Flamingo Road and Maryland Parkway. That location is expected to open by the end of the year.

Along with preschool classes, Family to Family also offers parenting workshops and intervention programs, lactation consulting, information about child safety issues and infant and toddler CPR classes, nutrition classes and a resource library with books and videos.

For more information, visit family2familylv.org or call 702-870-9583.

Contact Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 702-387-2949.

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