Children learn language as they grow up. Listening to children pronounce words and put together sentences is fun. However, can you imagine being 5-years-old at a school where everyone speaks a language you don’t know? Mercedes Jimenez remembers her own experiences coming to the United States. She was scared. Now she gets to bring her Spanish language roots to work every day as a teacher with Sound to Harbor’s Early Learning Programs. Her compassionate care and dual language abilities provide powerful support for children who are new to the English language.

ESD Bilingual Melanie and Mercedes
Melanie Scrivner, Center Manager and teacher Mercedes enjoy working together, and Melanie practices her Spanish. Photo credit: Mary Ellen Psaltis

Mercedes has been teaching preschool students in both Spanish and English for the Head Start/ECEAP (Early Childhood Education Assistance Program) through Sound to Harbor for the past decade. Benefits can be reaped by all involved. Some children are from families where only Spanish is spoken. Her classroom gives these young learners time to acquire English in a safe and comfortable manner. This makes them better prepared for kindergarten, which is the goal of the Head Start program. It is also fun and stimulating for native English speaking students get to hear words in another language,

Sound to Harbor Early Learning Programs serve families and children in centers across Thurston, Grays Harbor and Mason counties. Preschool is provided for free or at low-cost to families who qualify for financial assistance through Head Start and ECEAP. South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) and Lacey Child Care and Family Services Center also have childcare for infants and toddlers. Field trips and nutritious meals are part of the programs. Health and developmental screenings are also offered.

Parents will be pleased to learn the preschool and childcare options have been structured to fill the varied their needs. There are half-day programs in the mornings and afternoons. These are three-and-a-half hour sessions. The school-day option for some Head Start students is a daily program for six-and-a-half hours. There is also an ECEAP wrap-around program with preschool and then daycare before or after school. Incoming families each have an interview to determine the best options available for them.

ESD BiLingual Nutrition Lunches
Nutritious meals are just one aspect of the many ways Sound to Harbor programs support children and their families. Photo credit: Mary Ellen Psaltis

People are apprised of the many and varied social services in the area. The early learning centers provide an impressive level of services, not only for the students, but for the families as well. Then they are assisted to make connections for help with medical needs, housing, nutrition support, legal advocacy, and so much more.

Mercedes loves working with the children but also sees that working with the whole family is essential to the ongoing heath and success of everyone. One of her favorite activities is riding the bus with the children, which gives her the opportunity to meet uncles, grandmas, siblings, babysitters, and other family members. Mercedes is equally enthusiastic about helping families make connections within the community such as getting a library card. “I love the families. I love to ride the bus,” she says grinning.

You will find Mercedes teaching all week, then managing coursework at SPSCC, gaining credits towards her AA in Early Childhood Education. Tuition and books are covered through her work. She explains that this education would probably not otherwise be possible without this financial assistance. Mercedes is grateful to receive more professional training, and she believes that her love of education is passed on to her students. Along with work and school, Mercedes has a family including a husband and three children. The ongoing support of her family, she affirms, gets credit for her continuing success.

Teachers are in high demand, and especially ones who are capable Spanish speakers. Perhaps you or someone you know would thrive in this kind of environment. These individuals make a significant difference in the lives of children in this very community. This path gives you an opportunity to further your own education. Put your language skills and positive attitude to good use. “It’s never to late to go to school,” reminded Mercedes, adding, “The children are our future.”

ESD BiLingual Mercedes reading
Mercedes Jimenez, a bi-lingual teacher, sits right on the floor with her young learners. Photo credit: Mary Ellen Psaltis

Tus habilidades serían una luz brillante para estos niños pequeños que están aprendiendo inglés. Puedes usar tus habilidades lingüísticas y culturales si te conviertes en maestro/a de educación infantil, educación de ni?os/as. También puedes lograr beneficios personales y profesionales.

Your skills would be a shining light for these young children who are learning English. You could use your language and cultural abilities by becoming a teacher. You can also reap personal and professional accomplishments.

Share your love of language and culture with enthusiastic young learners. Please check out more information about employment options or enrolling your child in a program. ¡Gracias!

South Puget Sound Community College 
Sound to Harbor Early Learning Center 
2011 Mottman Road SW, Building 20, Olympia


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