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Sonoma’s littlest graduates

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A year ago, La Luz Center took the reins of a unique early childhood education program from the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation. The program, which continues to be funded by First Five Sonoma County, is called AVANCE and offered via a national nonprofit with sites across the country that deliver innovative family education and support services.

Recognizing that parents are the first and most important teachers for their children, AVANCE helps bring education opportunities to parents and Sonoma’s youngest children.

The graduation ceremony for this year’s AVANCE families is scheduled from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 29, in the amphitheater on the Sonoma Plaza. Community members are invited to share in the festivities.

The AVANCE preschool program operates out of donated space on the Hanna Boys Center campus where there is a classroom for the parents, a crib-room classroom for infants and a large classroom and play area for the under 3-year-old toddlers.

The eight-month AVANCE child-parent curriculum centers on two sessions each week. The three-hour sessions on Tuesday included classes with the two separate groups of parents and children that participate in each session. Next school year, the plan is to enroll 20 parent/child participants in each of the Tuesday and Thursday sessions.

“Parents learn new ways to engage and be effective teachers for their children,” says Betsy Chavez, La Luz director of strategic partnerships. “The program has proven to improve kindergarten readiness and create stronger long-term parental involvement and support for their children’s education.”

AVANCE staff provide play-based education for the children while the parental education classes focus on early childhood development, literacy and school readiness. In addition to the weekly classes, the program includes monthly home visitations that reinforce class learning and explore other support services that may be needed by the family.

Next year, Chavez expects that an outside play area will be added so that the children have more outdoor experiences and play activities.

La Luz staff will launch a neighborhood outreach and enrollment campaign during the summer. Intake interviews will be scheduled to review program commitments; orientation for the new families will follow in late August. A community open house for the program is planned for the fall.

“La Luz has the experience and relationships to reach those who will most benefit from the AVANCE program,” said Chavez. “With strong community partnerships and its existing program offerings, La Luz Center is able to provide a range of services to support successful outcomes for our AVANCE families.”

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