Never Too Young

Sac City schools teach parents and preschoolers

By R.E. Graswich
April 2019

If Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to see a best-practice example of early childhood education, he doesn’t have to travel far. A trip to David Lubin Elementary School at 35th and M streets, about 23 blocks from the state Capitol, will reveal wonders.

Lubin is one of seven schools in the Sacramento City Unified School District to offer a program called Parent Participation Preschool. The formula is not new—Sac City borrowed the idea from Oakland and Berkeley schools in the late 1940s. Twenty years ago, I enrolled with my two kids. The experience still pays dividends.

Here’s the secret to Parent Participation Preschool: the program flips the common approach to early education and makes the parent the student. Parents enroll through Sac City Unified Adult Education. Attendance is taken on parents, not kids. Each grownup works in the classroom one day per week and attends monthly meetings on parenting strategies. Mom and Dad learn a lot.

The classes are beneficial to parents, but the big winners are the kids. They attend preschool daily, play alongside dedicated adults and learn from professional educators.

“It’s an amazing program,” says Anita Warmack, who has taught Parent Participation Preschool for 31 years in Sacramento. “I can’t tell you how many parents come to me and say it was one of the best experiences they ever had with their children.”

Warmack is a legend at Sac City Unified, not only for her dedication to parents and preschoolers but her invincible spirit. She has remained at work through multiple challenges with breast cancer, inspiring students and colleagues.

 

She spends her mornings at O.W. Erlewine Elementary in Larchmont Riviera, with afternoons at Lubin. As Warmack arrives for afternoon class, alumni members, now in first or second grade, run to greet her, yelling, “Miss Anita!” Two parents in the program were once children in her class.

“This particular program is so valuable because it’s so much more than affordable preschool. It empowers parents to feel comfortable in the classroom, and lays a foundation for parents to later become more involved in the child’s school and education as a whole,” says Wei Garland, a parent with two children who graduated from the program.

The essential purpose of Parent Participation Preschool hasn’t changed in decades. But the challenges of education have evolved for 3- and 4-year-old children.

“Our day is still play-based, but the curriculum has undergone fundamental changes at the kindergarten level and beyond,” Warmack says. “One big change has been cellphones. Our children don’t have them yet, but they know how to use them. And they have devices like iPads. We encourage parents to limit contact with tech. Young children need tactile engagement, and not a glass screen.”

Moments in Warmack’s classroom are classic and timeless. Children still ask how babies are made. Parent Participation Preschool provides nervous parents with age-appropriate responses. During a vocabulary exercise, one boy demonstrated a four-letter lexicon that would have impressed a drill sergeant. Warmack thanked the lad for being helpful, and asked him to use other words.

The semester cost of Parent Participation Preschool is $575 for the five-day preschool program, and $475 for the four-day option. Says Warmack, “People with resources can send their children to private preschool. For low-income families, there’s Head Start. This is for everyone else.”

To see for himself, Gov. Newsom would be welcome at Warmack’s classroom anytime.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at reg@graswich.com.

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