Making a Difference: First Things First

YUMA, Ariz. – “When children have a struggle with their literacy skills, school becomes a place of not fun and not a place I want to be and I’m struggling. So, it’s up to us to ensure that our children are successful and if we start early, Yuma will be in a better place,” says Rudy Ortiz Regional Director for “First Things First”.

In a recent meeting, city leaders participate in a unique workshop, that strives to help Yuma’s children five and younger, receive a quality education. Partnering with PBS and Read on Arizona, Ortiz tells News 11 why the “First Things First Program’ is essential for Yuma families.

“We are here to partner with families, schools, local agencies to enhance the early childhood systems. Families that have kids from zero all the ways up to five, and when we say zero, those families that are expecting a little one as well. One of our grants is actually supporting early literacy and that’s what we’re here today about,” says Ortiz.

According to Read On Arizona’s 2013-2023 Strategic Literacy Plan almost 800,000 Arizona children under age nine face challenges in school readiness, including poverty, and difficulty speaking and understanding English. These workshops hope to address this crisis. With materials in hand Ortiz and partners lay out the family-centered comprehensive early childhood system, showing city leaders how easy it is to teach and learn. And what better way to learn, than to participate!

Ortiz explains, “It’s as easy as this: play, talk and read to your children. What I mean is play, imaginary play, have fun with it, enjoy it. Talk, have robust conversations, teach them new words during these conversations. Then when you’re reading books, choose books that have a little bit more of a higher vocabulary and explain those words and what’s going on with them.”

Ortiz emphasizes that parents are the best first teacher for their children and the impact they have on the child’s future education and health.

“We know this; the vocabulary size of a three year old is a great determiner of what their literacy test scores will be in the third grade. Now, why is this so huge? This is huge because this is where you determine what their success will be later in life,” says Ortiz.

That’s the overall goal. A strong family teaching quality care and education, leading to healthy life development and it all starts with reading.

Ortiz concludes, “By the time they hit kindergarten, they will be ready. And it will be in a situation of them loving and having an appreciation for school, and that’s what we want. We want our children to go to school and fall in love with it.”

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