Ready, Set, Kindergarten! PCF Grant Prepares Families for School

A group of eight Latinas stand posed together, loosely in a line, inside a classroom. Six of them wear red and white nametags. Participants of the Parent School Readiness Program, which was funded this year by a PCF Education Grant.

Writing your name, holding scissors, counting to 10, sitting quietly in a group, dressing yourself – for children, learning these skills is a big deal when Kindergarten is just around the corner. With the help of a Pasadena Community Foundation Education Grant, families across the Pasadena area have kiddos that have practiced these skills all summer and are ready to thrive in Kindergarten classrooms.

Forming the Foundations for Future School Success

In 2022, PCF added early childhood learning and school readiness as new funding areas for its Education Grant Program, and Pasadena Education Network (PEN) received one of the 11 grants because of its work helping families appreciate that a child’s earliest educational experiences form the foundation for future school success. PEN was founded in 2006 to promote family involvement in public education in the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) so all children benefit. The organization makes a special effort to meet the needs of low-income and Spanish-speaking families with its programs.

PEN used its PCF funding to strengthen its School Readiness Program, a valuable resource that provides critical information, supplies, and moral support for families as they ready themselves for the start of their child’s academic journey within the Pasadena Unified School District. Executive Director Nancy Rose Dufford explains that the funding was especially helpful as the organization began to restart its programs following the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, during the pandemic, PEN had to discontinue our School Readiness Programs that supported some of our most vulnerable families. With the help of a grant from Pasadena Community Foundation, we were able to jumpstart our programs in 2023. Now, are prepared to once again work directly with underserved parents so they develop the knowledge and skills to support their children’s school success.”

Starting Kindergarten involves the whole family
In the first half of 2023, 101 parents have participated in PEN’s School Readiness Programs. In May, PCF visited a class for parents whose children would enter kindergarten this fall. The class took place at Families Forward Learning Center, a nonprofit organization in northwest Pasadena. Classes also take place at Madison, Longfellow, and Franklin elementary schools.

Former Parent Engagement Director Laura Diaz Allen* presented the class as a warm and supportive conversation, speaking primarily in Spanish. She emphasized that starting kindergarten doesn’t just impact the child but also the entire family.

A woman at the left stands in front of seven adult women students seated at a large classroom table. She is instructing them by pointing at her paper. The students have numerous papers, markers, and pens in front of them.
Laura Diaz Allen from Pasadena Education Network (pictured at left) conducts a School Readiness class at Families Forward Learning Center in May 2023.

The parents – on this day all mothers – were rapt in attention as Laura explained that children’s lessons in kindergarten will include learning early literacy sight words and practicing counting. Laura also shared what kinds of behaviors would be expected of the children: pay attention, stay at your desk, don’t bother your neighbor.

Laura encouraged the moms to begin preparing their young students over the summer by taking them to the library, reading to them each night, practicing using pencils and scissors, helping them learn to dress themselves, and practicing writing their names. She covered uniforms and appropriate footwear, as well as the importance of setting up a family routine so that the child gets 10-12 hours of sleep each night.

Finally, she underscored that parents make their children’s experiences in the school district that much richer if they volunteer and get involved with groups like ELAC (English Learner Advisory Committee), the School Site Council, and PTA. The topic of parent-teacher conferences came up, and she advised the parents to “come prepared with questions for the teacher.”

One of the class participants, after filling her bag with free school supplies to take home for her child, smiled as she was leaving the class, telling a us that she felt calmer about the looming school year because Laura had broken down the process into steps. “I am ready to start school alongside my child, it doesn’t feel so scary now.”

*Note: Laura Diaz Allen retired in June 2023 following 12 years in her role with PEN.

Three Latina women stand at a table inside a classroom. They are reaching for jars of pencils and scissors and filling Ziploc bags. Each wear a red and white nametag.  A woman is visible behind them, seated at the classroom table.
Participants are invited to fill a bag of new school supplies that they can take home and use with their children over the summer.