early childhood development

Reading Week Inspires Our Preschoolers to Become Readers For Life

Reading Week Inspires Our Preschoolers to Become Readers For Life

Students in KidWorks’ state-licensed preschool had an important decision to make earlier this month.  Would they rather spend time chatting with the Cat in the Hat, or meet with police officers, fire fighters, bankers, actors and others in professions they might one day like to enter?

The good news is that they didn’t have to pick at all.  They enjoyed all of these choices and more during a national reading week event that celebrated the wonderful books written by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel).

“Each year, the KidWorks preschool team puts together a special program to celebrate National Reading Month,” says teacher Minda Barrera-Vargas.  “While we concentrate on reading throughout the year, that week we focus on Dr. Seuss.  He is special because of the uniqueness and creativity of his beloved books.”

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!

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 

KBM Visits the Santa Ana Zoo

Our Friday July 29th our KBM kids spend the day at the Santa Ana Zoo! It was such a fun day in the sun learning about all the different types of animals. 

Volunteers like Doris made the day great. Doris was one of our UCI committed volunteer, and group leader for the field trip. She did great with her 6 students. We were blessed having her lead a group.

Our Cedar Evergreen youth, Maritza Montiel, volunteered at the KBM field trip. Our very own site director, Brizzy Cruz, was Maritza's program leader two years ago at KCE.

The Women of KidWorks: Melissa Peralta

Editor’s note:  This is the latest installment in our blog series, “The Women of KidWorks.”  We celebrate the tireless women who generously serve at our centers each week.  Some of these women also happen to be the mothers of our students.  Others are KidWorks employees.  Their humility, perseverance and love touch our students, staff and volunteers each day. This week, we highlight another very special mom!

Melissa Peralta’s six-month-old daughter, Alanis, isn’t exactly sure where her mom goes each morning.  All Alanis knows is that she definitely doesn’t want her to leave.

Melissa, who has been KidWorks’ Volunteer Resources Manager since 2014, knows that one day her young daughter will understand that the unlimited love she has for her also extends to the hundreds of children and youth that Melissa pairs with our dozens of volunteers.

Since her days as a student at the University of California, Irvine, Melissa has had a deep desire to help others.  Her position at KidWorks represents that ongoing commitment.  Prior to KidWorks, she’s served at Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and Olive Crest in roles that included case management and volunteer engagement.

As a child, Melissa spent summers and weekends with her grandmother, Chole, at Chole’s home just a few blocks from our Dan Donahue Center.  The neighborhood today still faces the challenges of gangs, drugs and violence that it did back then.

“As children, we weren’t allowed to go outside the gate; we had to stay in the front yard,” Melissa recalls.  “Whenever I heard the gunshots, my Mom would say, ‘Don’t worry.  We’ll make sure you are safe.’  It wasn’t until years later that I knew what I was being protected from.”

Melissa sees KidWorks as an antidote to the negative aspects of the neighborhood.

“The kids are so happy to come to our centers,” she says.  “They are eager to learn and to be safe from what is happening outside our doors.”

Melissa sees a clear link between the help our volunteers provide to our students and her own parenting responsibilities with Alanis.

“I do everything possible to invest in my daughter’s future,” she says.  “Our volunteers are also doing everything in their power to make the same investment in our students.” 

As KidWorks expands and accepts more students, Melissa knows that there is much hard work ahead to recruit even more volunteers. 

Her parents, Benjamin and Carmen, who worked long hours to provide for their family, inspire her.  “I am willing to put in as many hours as it takes so KidWorks continues making a positive impact in Santa Ana,” she says.  “I tell every volunteer that even if they are only able to dedicate one hour a week, they are having a crucial impact on young lives.”

As six-month-old Alanis grows older, we know that she will be filled with pride in her mom and all she does to help others. Of course, KidWorks and our dedicated volunteers already feel that way, Melissa!   

KidWorks Preschool Class of 2016

On June 22, 2016 our KidWorks Preschool Class of 2016 graduated. We are proud to announce that 100% of our preschool class (that met state age requirements) were assessed as kindergarten-ready. This group of kids will go on to do great things and many of them will remain in our programs for the long haul. 

Congratulations to our preschool students, parents, teachers, volunteers, and all the helpers that made this day possible!  

Our preschool students getting ready for graduation and singing some songs! 
Our parents could barely contain their excitement as the KidWorks Preschool Class of 2016 entered the auditorium. 
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