By Marie A. Dakessian–PhD
Rose and Alex Pilibos–Mary Postoian Preschool is the first and only Armenian center for early childhood education to be funded by Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) school–the highest distinction granted in Los Angeles County.
Located in the Little Armenia district of Los Angeles–for over 30 years Postoian has nurtured generations of 2–3–and 4-year-olds in a high-quality learning environment that has made it a source of great pride for the community. "With this achievement–our years of hard work–professionalism–and devotion to the education of young children were rewarded and validated," Preschool Director Takouhey Saatjian stated.
In 1998–California voters approved Proposition 10–a tobacco tax to fund early childhood health and education programs. What emerged was First 5 LA–a non-profit organization devoted to improving the lives of LA County children.
Established under the auspices of First 5 LA–LAUP seeks–within ten years–to provide a first-rate preschool education to every 4-year-old child living in LA County. This objective arises in response to a number of challenges faced by the current preschool system–including overcrowding and underfunding.
LAUP aims not only to establish additional preschools in underserved areas–but also to foster program enhancement at existing centers. To realize this goal–LAUP announced its "Early Launch" program–the preliminary stage of its comprehensive plan extending over the next several years. During this pilot period–classrooms in 100 education centers will be approved and accepted into the LAUP system. To date–approximately 2650 centers representing 94 classrooms have attained this distinction–including Postoian Preschool.
The lengthy and detailed Early Launch process began last October. Orientation sessions were followed by written applications in November from centers that met the established curricular–licensing–fiscal–and other criteria. Based on the limited scope of Early Launch–in December a lottery was used to select applicants eligible for a site visit–the most rigorous phase of the process. Visits were conducted in January and February–with results available by March.
"Getting ready to welcome the LAUP team," Director Saatjian said–"was a very challenging as well as exciting process." The site visit involved classroom assessmen’s based upon the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS)–a widely used resource for program evaluation. Members of the UCLA Center for Improving Child Care Quality–in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Office of Child Care–performed the review. Factors such as teacher qualifications–adult-to-child ratio–group size–program structure–daily activities–cleanliness and personal care–classroom setup–interaction–and supervision were considered. In addition–parent interviews gleaned information regarding involvement and participation–issues whose importance is underscored by LAUP.
According to Rita Noravian–Postoian parent and PTO president–"The Preschool prides itself on an open-door policy whereby parents are welcome at any time to communicate suggestions and concerns. Our parents are very involved with programs and events throughout the year and regard themselves an integral part of the Preschool." The evaluators also examined the facility’s documen’s and written policies concerning working conditions–qualifications–benefits–professional development–retention–and community relationships.
As of April–Postoian became an LAUP school. This status ensures funding for a variety of enrichment programs–such as classes in music and movement as well as in gymnastics; hands-on experiences during field trips; a summer program which will provide 4-year-olds with skills necessary in kindergarten; parenting classes throughout the year; and additional professional development seminars for staff members. LAUP’s philosophy is grounded in educational progress–its expectation is that approved centers not only maintain recognized standards of excellence–but that they continually improve upon them. Postoian Preschool shares this belief. For example–its Early Childhood Education (ECE) credentialed–highly experienced instructors possess the qualifications to teach at even the elementary-school level–and they regularly participate in professional training and enhancement workshops. In Rita Noravian’s view–"The faculty and administration excel every day at making the children’s first formal schooling experience a memorable and educational one."
Postoian also has consistently been accredited by NAEYC–the National Association for the Education of Young Children. According to Saatjian–"Our high-quality program–which complies with the California Department of Education Pre-K guidelines and NAEYC standards–prepares 4-year-olds for kindergarten through a bilingual curriculum. Children learn the Armenian language and heritage as well as respect for our multicultural world."
For Saatjian–it’s all about the children. Her dedication and commitment to early childhood education is evident in her over 20 years of experience. She recognizes the vital importance of a first-rate learning environment for Armenian preschoolers. Without her foresight–resolve–and diligence–this unprecedented achievement could not have been realized. As a Postoian parent and PTO member–I heartily applaud this success–one that the entire Los Angeles Armenian community can celebrate.