Some good news:
Today, after a long month of tears and work from their school administrators, dozens of Latinx four-year-olds will start their education lives at Charlotte Bilingual Preschool. It’s a big day in an ordinary year, and cause for a big celebration in 2020.
Just four weeks ago, we published a story on the preschool and its predicament: The organization that provides its funding, Meck Pre-K, had ruled that its programs would be open for full in-person instruction all across the county, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Charlotte Bilingual Preschool, a gem of the city’s education scene since it was founded 20 years ago, operates out of Hickory Grove Elementary, a CMS school. All CMS schools are all virtual.
That left the bilingual preschool stuck between a funder who was reopening in-person, and a landlord who was keeping the doors locked.
If nothing happened, it would lead to a crucial lost year for dozens of English-language learners. That’s a bad thing for the whole city, now and in the future: A quarter of all English-leaners drop out before graduating, says Banu Valladares, the director of the school.
We published the story on the school’s predicament on August 11. That morning, Will Jones read it.
He’s the CEO at Thompson Children & Family Focus, a long-standing organization that provides mental health treatment and all-around support for low-income children. Thompson was founded in the 19th century and served as an orphanage until the 1970s, when it expanded to provide mental health treatment for kids. Thompson already had a relationship with the bilingual preschool, by virtue of serving some of the same students.
Thompson had been one of the few childcare facilities in the city to remain open throughout the Covid-19 shutdown — a decision made because most of their parents were either essential workers or people living in poverty who couldn’t take time off from their jobs, Jones told me.
After he read the story, Jones emailed Valladares. He said Thompson had classrooms available if she wanted them.
She did. Absolutely, she did.
Valladares called me two weeks ago to say it was a “miracle.”
“As a team of human beings who live in a community, a comunidad, then we are all checking each other for our blind spots.”
But then they started making arrangements. Nothing’s easy, of course, so a simple agreement wasn’t enough. Because the students would be in the building, they’d be under Thompson’s childcare license. Which means the funding for the program from Meck Pre-K would actually go to Thompson, which would then give it to the Bilingual School, to pay for the program and teachers and materials and all. A technicality, but another thing.
“Through this whole thing there was this roller coaster of emotions where I was emotional and angry. And always I was thinking about, am I too emotional? Am I too Latina?” she said. “And I think this is also a woman thing. Women always have to be checking on these things.”
But they worked it out. Almost as well as they could.
Given the uncertainty, several parents pulled their kids out of the program last month. So last week, after the contracts were all signed, Valladares and her team fanned out to try to fill as many slots as they could. She expects to have 72 children go through the 4-year-old preschool program this year — 54 through Meck Pre-K and 18 funded by the school. Eighteen of them will meet at Thompson for in-person learning at the Thompson facility; the rest will be virtual.
“The great thing is we’ll have little people; I’m so looking forward to seeing them,” she said. “I wish we could say miracles are easy but you have to work really hard.”