Early Childhood Education

KidWorks Teacher Spotlight: Brizzy Cruz

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      Photo :  Brizzy (center) with third-graders, Rosisela (left) and Monserat

Photo:  Brizzy (center) with third-graders, Rosisela (left) and Monserat

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!

KidWorks Teacher Spotlight: Karina Flores

On a chilly, mid-January afternoon, Karina Flores leads a group of about two dozen elementary school students on a short walk to Jerome Park in central Santa Ana.  They’ve earned a 20-minute break from their after-school homework lessons at our Townsend Street Center.

“Stay in a straight line,” Karina gently admonishes.  “Don’t cross the alley until you make sure no cars are coming.”

“OK, Ms. Karina,” they chime in unison. 

Karina has a special bond with her students.  She grew up on Townsend Street where this KidWorks satellite center is located and knows first-hand the struggles and challenges of an underserved neighborhood.

In fact before she joined our staff, Karina was a KidWorks student herself, attending our programs from sixth grade all the way through high school.  She was a member of the first-ever group of students who comprised Community Leaders of Santa Ana (CLOSA), our youth-led organization that helps improve the surrounding neighborhood with cleanups, sponsored events and other activities.

“I want each student to know that whatever hardships they and their families are going through, that the KidWorks center is a place that for 90 minutes each day they have a safe, encouraging place to go,” she says.

As she leads her class, Karina’s gentle, quiet personality shines through—and so does her strength.  Recently, a second grader approached her in class and asked if he could color with crayons.

“Yes, but only after you read for 10 minutes,” Karina said.

“How about after five minutes?” the boy said, smiling playfully.

“Ten minutes of reading and then you can color,” she countered.  Turning to a visitor, she laughed and said, “They learn to negotiate at a very young age!”

Jocelyn is one of Karina’s seventh grade students who is so inspired by her teacher that she also volunteers several hours, four days a week at the Townsend Center.

“I trust Ms. Karina so much,” Jocelyn says.  “She’s talks with me when there are problems at my school where I faced bullying or conflicts.  She’s helped me deal with those challenges in the right way.”

Outside of work, Karina and Jose Ayala, the Health & Fitness Program Coordinator at our main Dan Donahue Center, are busy planning a June wedding.

They enjoy hiking and camping together, and have visited the Grand Canyon, Sequoia National Forest and Yosemite.  She also enjoys action and romance movies.

Karina, everyone at KidWorks is so proud of the way you have grown from a diligent student in our programs into a site coordinator and role model for other children and youth as you mold them into equally contributing members of the community.  Thank you!

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer

KidWorks Teacher Spotlight: Raquel Nava

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     Raquel with third-grader, Adrely

Raquel Nava’s eyes brim with tears when she speaks about her own childhood—and how those difficult years fill her with empathy for the students she works with each day at KidWorks.

Raquel was sent to California from Mexico to live with an aunt when she was just six years old.  Her parents have never really been a part of her life.

In elementary school and high school, Raquel’s heart grew softer instead of harder when other students poked fun at her because she didn’t fully understand the culture, speak fluent English or wear newer clothes.

But Raquel learned perseverance and goal setting that led to her earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree.  She paid for her education herself, working three jobs at once.

Raquel has been with KidWorks for nearly two years.  And she’s one of our students’ favorites.

“At one point, I was pursuing a career in film production, but eventually I realized that in my heart my real desire was to help the underserved, especially those in Santa Ana where I grew up,” Raquel says.

KidWorks has proved to be an ideal match with Raquel’s natural teaching gifts and her empathetic nature.

“If a student comes to class without a pencil, my own experience has taught me that it doesn't mean he or she is unprepared,” Raquel says.  “The student may be dealing with other difficulties at home or in school that we might not yet know about.”

Having been a resilient self-starter, Raquel now instills the same skills in the second, fifth and eighth graders she teaches.

“I assign them to be line leaders, teacher’s assistants and door monitors,” Raquel says.  “They learn to take responsibility, just like they’ll need to do in the work world.”

Raquel is a huge believer in positive reinforcement.

“If a student has a really good day, I’ll phone the parents and tell them, ‘Your child was amazing today,’” she says.  With a wink she also adds, “In other cases I might smile at a student and say, ‘Remember, I have your mom’s cell phone number and can text her!’”

Raquel and her husband, Everardo, a certified public accountant, lead busy lives.  Everardo regularly volunteers at our after school programs.  They both enjoy cooking (pozole, a traditional Mexican stew is one of Raquel’s specialties), yoga and bingo.

Raquel, thank you for being such a shining star and fully sharing your caring heart with all of KidWorks students.

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer 

Summer 2016 fun at KidWorks: Our youngsters artworks tells the story

Hundreds of children and youth had a tremendous summer at KidWorks.  From July 5 through Aug. 12, students in grades kindergarten through 12 participated in “The Island”-themed activities that filled those long summer days while also keeping their minds stimulated so they were “ready to go” when school started again.

Our elementary and middle school students engaged in challenging games, faith-building bible lessons, creative craft making, field trips and other fun activities.

The high school students participated in our Leadership Academy, which for years has helped prepare them for higher education after high school and successful careers.  These students experienced mentoring, company site visits to learn about the work world, character development and service opportunities.

We asked a few of your younger students to create crayon drawings so they can share their summer experience with you.  We hope you enjoy their original artwork!

"Summer is the best; summer is a lot of fun!"

"Summer is the best; summer is a lot of fun!"

"My favorite part of summer was the beach."

"My favorite part of summer was the beach."

"My favorite part of summer was the beach."

"My favorite part of summer was the beach."

"My favorite part of summer was going to the park."

"My favorite part of summer was going to the park."

"My favorite part of summer was eating food! YAY food!"

"My favorite part of summer was eating food! YAY food!"

"My favorite part of summer was playing at the beach."

"My favorite part of summer was playing at the beach."

A Closer Look: KidWorks’ Programs: University Starts Now

Editor’s note:  We are pleased to introduce our latest blog series, “A Closer Look: KidWorks’ Programs.”  We offer a full range of programs for children, youth and adults.  In this series, we focus on several of aspects, giving you a peek into what makes these programs tick—and sharing a few “little known secrets”!

When a child plops his or her backpack onto the floor and begins one of our after-school sessions, we see an opportunity that goes far beyond a sheet of homework.

“It’s really about the whole person,” says Noemi Juarez, KidWorks’ Director of After School Programs.

“There is definitely the academic aspect—yet there is so much more,” she says.  “We are also very intentional about focusing on character, along with the development of the mind, physical fitness and creativity.”

That’s where our University Starts Now comes in.  USN for short, this program focuses on our younger students, ranging from kindergarten through fifth grade.

“We picked the name University Starts Now because it signifies that preparing for higher education starts the moment a little one attends his or her first day of preschool, and for every school day thereafter,” Noemi says.  “Even in the early grades, we show them pictures of actual universities, play games where they guess the name of a college mascot and even have alumni come back to tell them what dorm life is like.”

In addition to the all-important academics, USN also gives our kids a chance to blossom in ways that are unique to KidWorks’.

Noemi gives an example from the most recent school year.

“If you were in USN, you’d sit with our volunteer tutors to successfully complete your homework, but your day would be broader than that,” she says.  “You would have studied the idea of equality, and followed that up by writing a ‘thank you’ letter to Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Noemi adds, “You’d also learn about composting, and get hands-on experience by using some banana peels from home.  During the school year, you’d also learn about recycling, and get a chance to actually do some recycling yourself, including learning the three R’s—recycle, reuse and reduce.”

Noemi says that our USN students also had a chance to bring out their creative side while learning about the need to conserve water.  “Our students all made a water conservation poster that was part of a city-wide contest.  One of our students even won!”

We celebrate individual and class success with “spirit days” that have included popcorn and ice cream parties.

It’s all meant to make learning fun.  With that said, KidWorks is also all about results and academic improvement.

We subscribe to several programs from “Let’s Go Learn,” a diagnostic testing service that helps us benchmark and track our students’ success.  Testing takes place in October, with follow-up testing near the close of the school year.

As our fall 2016 USN program gets underway, look for even more fresh ideas to help our students continue to say, “We love KidWorks and we love learning!”


By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer 

Women of KidWorks: Alma Magana

Editor’s note:  This is the latest installment of our blog series, “The Women of KidWorks.”  This week, we highlight another very special mom!

Alma Magana, a KidWorks preschool teacher, has a special message for parents who attend graduation ceremonies for their four-year-olds.

“Please remember to invite me to your child’s high school and college graduation,” she tells them.  “I’ll go.”

While high school and college seems many years off for these parents and their young students, Alma is a person of her word.

Just ask Isaias Cambron, who recently graduated high school.  He attended KidWorks programs from preschool through his sophomore year in high school.

“You came!” Isaias said as she congratulated the cap-and-gown clad graduate. 

“I told you I would,” she says, recalling her promise of so many years ago.

Alma has been part of the KidWorks’ team since 1999, when she started as an after school volunteer at what was then our Myrtle Street center in Central Santa Ana.  She eventually moved to our Dan Donahue Center when it opened in 2005.  She’s taught at our accredited preschool since then—and is in fact our longest-term employee.

What’s it like to spend 175 days a year helping four year olds to learn the alphabet, recognize the primary colors and explore their artistic skills?

“I confess that sometimes I forget to leave the preschool teacher at the door when I go home for the day,” she laughs.   “I sometimes say to my daughters, Betty, 23, and Debbie, 19, ‘Did you wash your hands,’ and ‘Don’t forget to say hello when you meet someone.’”

There are more dimensions to Alma than many people who meet this soft-spoken woman may not fully realize.

She, her husband, Joel, and Joel’s father, Adolfo (both ordained ministers) and sister, Mirvella, oversee 13 churches the three of them have founded throughout the U.S., Mexico and Nicaragua.

Alma has also run 16 half marathons, many with her daughters.  She also sews (pillow cases, handbags and quilts), giving some of her creations to her students and their families.

Alma says that her deep faith in Jesus means that service in His name goes beyond preaching the gospel.

“To me, it’s important that I also give of my time, visiting with students and their families at their homes after work,” she says.  “KidWorks is like a seed we plant in a child’s life.  That seed grows there forever.”

 

By Glenn Leibowitz, Volunteer Content Writer