Thanks to a strong and productive partnership between First 5 LA’s Best Start Northeast Valley Community and Pacoima Charter Elementary School, the school has developed a program, focusing on parents of children ages 0-5 in the San Fernando Valley, to help kids grow up healthy and be well-prepared for preschool and kindergarten.

The “Baby University” program, inspired by a parent support “packet” put together by the Best Start Northeast Valley Community Communications Workgroup, has proven to be an invaluable resource for many parents. The program helps parents meet other parents, and ensures that their children receive proper nutrition, meet important milestones and embrace a structured home environment. The “packet” includes a Kit for New Parents (which is produced by First 5 California and free to all parents), two parenting workbooks and a relaxation tool.

“The parents love Baby University,” said Sergio Vasquez, a physician with the Pacoima Charter Elementary School system who teaches and supervises the program that is run by the school. He also is a member of the Guidance Body of Best Start Northeast Valley Community.

“In my estimation, a child is yearning for a structured home environment,” he said. “Through this program, kids grow up healthy with a sense of responsibility, confidence, and are ready to succeed in preschool and kindergarten.”

“I’d highly recommend this program to other parents. It teaches you how to be good parents.” – Isis Quan

The charter school offers three two-hour workshop sessions each quarter on campus that are free to the public. The workshop series is also supported by Best Start partner Youth Policy Institute, through their Promise Neighborhoods grant. Promise Neighborhoods, like Best Start, focuses on the places where children and families live, although it is a federal program whose focus extends from age 0 through college. Pacoima Charter plans on offering this program as long as there is interest.

Manuel Fierro, senior program officer for Best Start Northeast Valley Community, said this program provides invaluable knowledge to parents regarding child development and how to support their children’s social and emotional development. These are very important protective factors that are part of Best Start’s Building Stronger Families Framework.

“This program connects parents with other parents like them, so that they can develop a social network that they can rely on for support,” he said. “It also allows parents to have the knowledge to raise their children in a way that is developmentally appropriate, which is an important factor in helping parents to not experience social isolation.”

Vasquez noted the program, which is offered in English and Spanish and typically includes 50 participants per workshop, provides information based on the different stages of children’s lives. At the beginning of each session, parents watch an informative video explaining the course material, then participate in interactive presentations that are followed by expert lectures.

For instance, parents learn how to help their child’s brain growth by reading and talking to them, maintain a healthy weight, understand the need for regular medical check-ups, and the importance of keeping vaccinations current. Parents also learn how to prepare their children for preschool, as well as setting limits and keeping a structured home.

Isis Quan, a mother of three who lives in Pacoima, participated in the program and said it helped her understand how to best raise her children.

“It provided me with some very useful information,” she said. “It helped me to see how we could best bring up our children, especially when it comes to discipline. I’d highly recommend this program to other parents. It teaches you how to be good parents.”

For more information about the “Baby University” program, please contact Jeanine Reneria or Ruben Castorena at 818-899-0201.