Early Connections aims to help at-risk kids
Joanna Kretowicz watches as teacher Teresa Alverado helps her twin boys decorate pumpkins in the gym at North School in Franklin Park. The activity was part of the Early Connections program, which aims to help at-risks pre-schoolers. | Mark Lawton~Sun-Tim
Updated: December 23, 2012 6:38AM
FRANKLIN PARK — Ambrosia Perez tapped his daughter’s shoulder several times before she took a sticker from his hand.
“Here, you peel it. You peel it,” he told her while both sat at a table in the cafeteria-gym of North School in Franklin Park.
The sticker was going on a pumpkin. It was part of a parent-child activity of the Early Connections program.
Early Connections is a state-funded program that aims to assist pre-schoolers at risk of doing poorly when they begin school. There are 17 risk factors, including being from low-income families on welfare, having very young parents or parents who haven’t graduated high school.
“For us, it’s the home language,” Instructor Teresa Alverado said. “Their home language is in Polish or Spanish. And low-income families.”
Three- and 4-year-olds are screened on naming colors, knowing numbers, whether each knows his or her name and other age appropriate knowledge.
District 84 started the program in 2003. Twenty preschoolers attend each morning and another 20 in the afternoon. There’s a waiting list to get in.
It’s not just for the children. Parents show up once a month to participate in an activity with their child and, at other times, to chat with experts.
An occupational therapist, for example, informs parents about their child’s fine motor skills.
“A child who still holds a crayon with a fist rather than by the fingers,” Alverado said.
A speech therapist can deal with why a child has a lisp. An occupational therapist can deal with why a child is uncoordinated. There are also sessions on nutrition, car seat safety, swimming pool safety and so on.
“What your child should be able to do at the age of 3, at the age of 4, at the age of 5,” Alverado said.
Joanna Kretowicz, who has twin boys in the program, said her family speaks Polish at home.
“(Early Connections) gives kids the chance to have some knowledge of English,” she said. “To meet some friends. To know how to play with other kids.”
Alverado agreed that developing social and emotional skills is an important goal.
“Interacting with other children,” Alverado said. “Learning to share. Helping others out. Being cognizant of other people’s feelings.”
Alverado visits each child at home before the school year starts. It gives children and parents a chance to get comfortable with Alverado, figure out goals and ease the anxiety of separation.