Task force wants supports for Latino preschoolers

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Recent research shows that in Philadelphia’s Latino community there are lower-than-average rates of participation in early childhood programs. A task force on early education issues has been meeting with the School District to identify gaps in services for young Latino children and to push for greater access to “culturally grounded” quality early childhood programs.

About 15 percent of Philadelphia’s public school students are Latino. The District’s Office of Early Childhood encouraged the formation of the Philadelphia Latino Task Force on Early Childhood Education & Head Start Equity in response to research showing Latino students have stronger literacy skills in kindergarten and better school attendance if they have preschool experience.

The Latino Task Force published an initial report with findings and recommendations last September. After a meeting in February with top District administrators including CEO Paul Vallas, Task Force co-chairs Johnny Irizarry of the Lighthouse and Pat DeCarlo of Norris Square Civic Association cited “significant progress” and said the Task Force would continue to work in partnership with the District.

A February 21 letter from the Task Force co-chairs to Vallas acknowledged several recent District commitments. These include targeting most new state funding for Head Start to the Latino community, creating a new career ladder program for bilingual District paraprofessionals, and developing dual language proficiency programs at several schools.

Irizarry said staff quality issues were a focus of the February meeting, such as the fact that the School District’s 6,000-student Head Start program had only one bilingual teacher citywide. The District has begun partnering with community-based organizations to create new Head Start programs with bilingual staff.

The Task Force urged the District to step up its recruitment and hiring of “fully bilingual, culturally informed, sensitive, well-trained personnel” across the District.

Another recommendation of the Task Force is greater community involvement in educational programming for Latino children. Its report proposed “Town Hall Meetings” that would address issues facing young children and discuss benefits of early care and education programs.

For information or to join the Task Force, contact Johnny Irizarry at 215-425-7800 or jirizarry@lighthse.net. Irizarry is executive director of the Lighthouse, which runs a nationally accredited bilingual child care center.