HARLEM — Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito stopped by the Children's Aid Society in East Harlem Tuesday to let Spanish-speaking parents know that they have options when it comes to enrolling their children in pre-K.
Families will receive decision letters soon for this fall's school-based pre-K programs as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio's effort to expand the free early-childhood program. But Fariña said she wanted to target Spanish-speaking parents this week to let them know that pre-K is also available at community-based organizations such as the Children's Aid Society's center on East 101st Street.
"We want to make sure the Hispanic community understands the opportunities," Fariña said in an interview. "We want them to know they can apply for both public school and places such as this so they have a choice."
Community-based organizations control their own deadlines and accept students on a rolling basis, but the city is urging parents to apply by June 26.
The city will receive $300 million per year from Albany over the next five years to add thousands of full-day pre-K seats, which so far includes 10,400 seats at community-based organizations. Another 8,000 community-based seats could be announced over the summer to bring the total to 53,000 seats by the fall.
Fariña has been spreading the message to Spanish-speaking parents in what she called a "full court press" that includes radio advertisements on Spanish media outlets and even automated calls. In the New York City metropolitan area, almost 20 percent of people over the age of 5 speak Spanish at home, according to census figures.
"We really want the word to get out there so no one misses it simply because they weren't aware," said Fariña.
"We have to keep harping on it and keep it out there any way we can," added Mark-Viverito.
The press conference at the Children's Aid Society was specifically for the Spanish language media and conducted in Spanish.
Just a floor below, kids napped, played with blocks and colored while getting one-on-one time with their teachers.
Community-based organizations such as the Children's Aid Society are an ideal place for non-English-speaking parents because the organization provides "cradle to college" programs for children while also helping parents to grow, said Agustina Gonzalez, assistant director for the Children's Aid Society's East Harlem Center.
"When the children are learning vocabulary in our classrooms, the parents are learning also. The ultimate goal is the success of an educated child and an educated parent," Gonzalez said.
Fariña said she's also hearing from many parents about how they will take the opportunity for free, full-day pre-K to return to work, one of the reasons de Blasio feels the additional pre-K seats are an "issue of equity," Fariña said.
In East Harlem, the Children's Aid Society has a waitlist of 100 kids for its pre-K services. With the recently announced funding, the organization will add a new class at its East 101st Street location and another at nearby P.S. 50 to increase capacity by about 40 children.
Across the city, the Children's Aid Society will add 12 additional pre-K classrooms serving more than 200 kids.
"We'll take more funding if we can get it and add more classrooms," said Moria Cappio, vice president of early childhood programs for the Children's Aid Society.