Appreciating Our Teachers
Children’s Institute is celebrating teachers everywhere in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week from May 6-10. Read stories from the people involved in Early Childhood Education at CII.
Early childhood education has been a focus for Children’s Institute for decades. It’s the best investment we can make to maximize children’s lifelong well-being – particularly for kids experiencing the impact of poverty and trauma. High-quality early learning is critical to healthy development, and prepares children to learn and thrive in kindergarten and beyond.
CII’s committed teachers and home visitors help our youngest children to learn and grow. In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, we are sharing perspectives from teachers, volunteers and parents connected to our early education programs.
CII has 32 Head Start, Early Head Start and Home Visiting sites in L.A County that are supported by 213 teachers, substitute teachers and home visitors along with in-classroom parent volunteers who contributed 6,078 total hours last year. Each day, teachers create and implement lesson plans that set kids up for success, but their reach extends beyond the lesson. CII’s teachers and home visitors are often the first to spot developmental delays or behavioral challenges, and refer families to crucial services like counseling and regional center services.
I hope you will join me celebrating CII’s teaching staff and their lifelong impact on children.
President & CEO
A Quarter Decade Teaching Head Start
When Silvia Serrano was hired as a teacher in 1994, CII had just two preschools. Over the next 25 years, Serrano worked in four different locations as Early Childhood Education at CII grew to 32 early education centers. Along the way, she would become CII’s longest active serving teacher.
Serrano was just starting her career as an educator when she came to CII. A single mother, raising her young daughter with limited support, Serrano was drawn to CII’s mission because she could relate to the challenges experienced by families receiving services. She immediately appreciated how nurturing and invested her fellow teachers were with every student.
“I liked the way we were helping the community,” Serrano said. “We were treating every child like they were our own and we were welcoming families in a way that showed them that we are people they can trust.”
From her very first day, Serrano’s teachers mentored her and provided valuable advice when it came to her own family. There was a sense of community in which everybody was there to help each other – a culture Serrano said has been consistent over her 25-year tenure.
We were treating every child like they were our own and we were welcoming families in a way that showed them that we are people they can trust.Silvia Serrano, Head Start Teacher
Serrano’s own daughter went on to earn an M.D. from Columbia University before moving back to practice medicine in South LA at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital.
“CII gave me support, and I try to give that support to our families,” she said. “I tell everybody how important CII is to the families we work with.”
Serrano doesn’t approach education with the expectation that her own students will attend Ivy League universities or become doctors. She said success is understanding the individual needs of each child and empowering them to grow in their own way.
Serrano encountered a student recently who did not know how to write his name and had a very limited understanding of numbers. His parents were first generation Americans from South Korea, and he spoke little English. Drawing from her many years of experience as an early childhood educator, Serrano was nurturing and supportive as they worked through activities each day. Overtime, he exceeded many of the expectations and is in a much better place.
“Little by little, he learned letters and numbers that will be important in kindergarten,” she said.
Hundreds of other students have received this same support from Serrano through the years. This includes one former student, Concepcion Amy Mateo, who was in Serrano’s 1998 Head Start class. Her positive experience inspired her to return to CII as an adult and apply to be a substitute teacher. Serrano remembered Mateo and helped her navigate being a new teacher.
With plans to continue in her role, many more kids will benefit from her teaching.
From Early Childhood Education Parent to Substitute Teacher
Before they ever led a class, many of CII’s current teachers first interacted with the organization as parents accessing services for their own children. This career trajectory applies to Daisy, a long-term substitute teacher at CII who works in classrooms for one- or two-week periods. Prior to starting at CII in late 2018, she was a parent with multiple children enrolled in Head Start.
Daisy first connected with CII while attending a health fair in her neighborhood. After visiting CII’s booth, she decided to enroll her daughter in Head Start. It didn’t take long for Daisy to be inspired by her daughter’s teachers as they worked together on writing, speech and numbers.
“They have helped me so much,” Daisy said. “They are special because they make a unique impact and provide a different perspective than what I could have done at home.”
Every teacher has been very welcoming and helped me with the things I didn’t know when I started. They are great resources, and every day I learn something new.Daisy, Head Start Substitute Teacher
During her daughter’s first year, Daisy had been pursuing a degree in early childhood education. When an opening came up for a substitute position, the teachers at her daughter’s Head Start encouraged her to apply. Daisy interviewed and got the job.
The transition from parent to teacher has been a natural one thanks to support from other teachers. Daisy said she received training and mentoring that made for a smooth first six months.
“Every teacher has been very welcoming and helped me with the things I didn’t know when I started,” she said. “They are great resources, and every day I learn something new.”
Daisy hopes to become a full-time teacher and enjoys being part of the growth and development of her students. She is supporting students in their progression toward important milestones that she saw her own daughter reach.
“I like how children acknowledge you when you help them,” she said. “They remember what you teach them.”
A Parent Benefits from Committed Teachers
Behind every successful teacher is a larger group of volunteers who help ensure a classroom runs smoothly. More than 6,000 volunteers fill support roles across every classroom at CII.
Jeanette enrolled her two youngest children in Head Start to help them with writing and art. She noticed how invested each teacher was in helping her children. She wanted to do something to support the program.
“They really helped my kids and prepared them for kindergarten,” she said. “I wanted to become more involved and give back.”
All of the teachers work so hard. They take responsibility for the kids during the day and give them the attention they need.Jeanette, Head Start Parent Volunteer
Jeanette started by volunteering in the classroom and helped teachers with lesson plans and organized activities. During her second year of volunteering, Jeanette joined the Head Start Policy Council and encouraged other Head Start parents to get involved as well.
Jeanette said the volunteering is worthwhile and greatly benefits the kids in the program. She said the teachers invest so much in their work that it is helpful to have a larger group supporting them.
“All of the teachers work so hard,” she said. “They take responsibility for the kids during the day and give them the attention they need.”
Jeanette is in her fourth year as a parent volunteer and is looking forward to continuing her involvement with the teachers at her Head Start site.