Efigenia Ubaldo doesn’t like the word “daycare.” She prefers “early childhood education.” Ubaldo runs a Highbridge Advisory Council preschool on Townsend Avenue.
“Early childhood education isn’t babysitting,” she said.
At Ubaldo’s preschool, early childhood education is finger painting, mask making and storytelling, a book fair, a diorama and a mosaic airplane. Scientists have compared the brain of a young child to the surface of a sponge – absorbent. That’s why early childhood education is important and why the Highbridge preschool celebrates Week of the Young Child year after year. Week of the Young Child is a nationwide event established in 1971 to focus attention on preschoolers.
“We pay tribute to the young children,” Ubaldo said. “We remind the community that early childhood education matters, and that we are here.”
On Monday, P.S. 170 principal Nancy Ramos cut a ribbon on Townsend Avenue and the festivities began. Parents and guests admired student artwork – watercolor flowers and popsicle stick shapes. On Tuesday, a magician visited the preschool. On Wednesday, the children trekked to the Statue of Liberty and enjoyed a backyard BBQ. Today, the preschool will hold a talent show and tomorrow, a block party parade.
According to Ubaldo, children learn to love or hate reading before they know how to read, learn to love or hate math before they know how to add. Her teachers teach – not all preschool teachers do. But the lessons they teach are fun.
“Alphabet songs and math games,” Ubaldo said. “Color experiments. Storytelling props. Rhyming.”
Elhadi Mohamed lives on Townsend. His son a P.S. 170 first grader, attended the preschool. According to Mohamed, Ubaldo’s teachers are dedicated and professional. His son is reading at a fifth grade level, thanks to the preschool.
“There is no preschool like it in the neighborhood,” Mohamed said. “Maybe no preschool like it in the Bronx.”
Like Highbridge itself, the preschool is ethnically diverse, with students of West African, Dominican, Ecuadorian, Indian and East Asian heritage. Many Highbridge parents struggle with English. Ubaldo dislikes the word “daycare” because it diminishes the profile of early childhood education. She also dislikes it because it discourages parent involvement.
“The parents who think we are a babysitting service drop off their children and leave,” Ubaldo said. “The parents who understand participate, and their children succeed.”
Preschooled children seldom drop out of high school. They earn better grades. The Highbridge preschool’s state and city funding is in jeopardy, Mohamed said. In the blocks surrounding the preschool, 36 percent of families are below the poverty line and 54 percent of people don’t speak English “very well,” according to the 2000 Census. Only 3 percent of people are college graduates.