Sometimes, a fresh apple and half a ham sandwich are exactly the enticements a first grader needs to warm up to our after school programs.
Not too long ago, that simple act of hospitality was how Brizzy Cruz, Site Director at our Bishop Manor Center, convinced little Amariis and her mom, Jenny Heng, to give KidWorks after school programs a try.
“They were a little hesitant at first, but now Amariis is one of our most enthusiastic students and her mom and I have developed a wonderful bond,” Brizzy says. “She and her daughter know this is always a safe place, even if the neighborhood isn’t.”
Like all of our centers, Bishop Manor is intentionally located in an underserved central Santa Ana neighborhood. This schoolroom opened five years ago, and Brizzy has been the center’s leader for two years.
“What makes Bishop Manor so unique is that all of the students literally walk over from the apartments where the center is located,” Brizzy says. “In addition of the Hispanic students who are enrolled in our programs, we also welcome Cambodian students who live in the complex. That’s unique to this KidWorks location.”
As soon as she arrives at the center, the warmth between she and her students is evident. “Ms. Brizzy! Ms. Brizzy!” they call out enthusiastically, as the schoolroom fills with students plopping down backpacks and pulling out their homework.
Brizzy takes a vibrant, creative approach to teaching.
“I never want the lessons or conversations to be one-way,” she says. “I always involve the students, letting them be expressive and hands-on.”
For example, instead of just reciting the four seasons of the year, Brizzy encourages them draw pictures of the seasons, describe them and spell them correctly.
“I use the ‘I do, you do’ approach where the kids watch me do something and then they get to try it out,” she says. “It’s experiential learning, with defined boundaries.”
Brizzy joined KidWorks as a volunteer in 2006 and joined the staff one year later.
For Brizzy, the classroom is just one way to form a strong relationship with her students and their families.
“Since they live in apartments just steps away from our center, I regularly drop by to visit, send notes home and telephone,” she says. “It’s all about gaining trust, making the kids want to be at the center and for the parents to feel the same.”
Outside of her KidWorks’ duties, Brizzy loves all forms of dance, plays volleyball and is an avid reader. In October 2015 she married Victor, an electrical technician with the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Brizzy, thank you for the many years you have made every one of your students feel special as you help each live up to his or her full potential!