El Valor teaches parents alongside students

May 10, 2013 6:00:01 PM PDT
An early childhood education program that started with the idea of providing high quality pre-school to children with special needs has grown to become one of the largest programs in the city.

It's now second only to Chicago Public Schools. Educating the littlest learners as well as their parents is just one of the ways the non-profit El Valor shows its "spirit of giving."

David Espinoza relishes the opportunity to read to his son Andrew's Head Start class. As a working parent, he says the school has helped fill in gaps that may have been missed at home.

"He's learned so much my son from this school," said Espinoza. "He really picked up on social skills, sharing. It's really benefiting my son."

The school is the Carlos H. Cantu Children and Family Center, 2434 S. Kildare, in Little Village. It's run by El Valor, a social service agency that works to strengthen families.

"We work with thousands of families to create those foundations that are needed to prepare for school," said El Valor's Maria Esther Lopez. "We want children socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively ready to succeed in school."

About 20 percent of the students have special needs -- like Lourdes Cabrera's 6-year-old son, Pedro.

"We see the teachers and how they're working with the kids," Cabrera said. "When he get here they right away tell me they see the kid. They start helping me to find special attention for him, like speech therapy, occupation therapies."

The school also offers support programs for parents. A staple is a curriculum called "Raising a Thinking Child."

"It teaches parents how to ask questions differently of their children, helping them to come to decisions on their own," said Lopez. "It's also been tagged as a violence prevention initiative that teaches children how to address conflicts in a very different way."

Parents say the classes are vital in helping them to learn and grow along with their children.

"As a new parent, I didn't know what to expect," Espinoza said. "And coming here I've learned a lot."

El Valor operates two other early education centers, in the Pilsen and South Chicago neighborhoods.

The organization is celebrating its 40th anniversary next week. You can find details about their grand gala here: http://elvalor.org/40th_anniversary_don_quixote_dinner

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