by Laura Monteros
For the past few years, Loma Alta Park director Penny Daniels has cobbled together a program that provides low-cost all-day preschool for children in the Altadena community, and according to parent Maya Estrada, the community has supported the effort. The Tiny Tots have taken field trips to the Altadena Community Garden, a volunteer taught baby yoga, and community members have donated time and supplies, she said.
The Tiny Tots reflect the diversity of Altadena, something that Maggie Salgado, who has overseen the Tiny Tots program for the past four years, is enthusiastic about. “There’s a great variety,” she said. “Asian-American, Indian-American, African-American, Caucasian, Latino.
“It’s wonderful to see the ethnicity of the kids. They get along, they play well together. This year is the first year that we’ve had these different races of kids, my first year to have so many races. Just to see these kids, how well the embrace other races—it’s wonderful.”
The program is going to end on Oct. 12, and the culprit is a law enacted by the State Assembly, AB 1991.
For the parents of 3 1/2 year-old Isaac Peltzer, the situation is disheartening, but it is not quite as crucial as it is for some. Dad Eric Peltzer said that it will be very hard for single moms on a limited income.
“We’re more fortunate than most people because we both work at home,” he told Altadenablog. “Proper childcare is very expensive. Any kind of structure is helpful. I don’t need all day, but if you’re working, you need something that’s all day.”
Estrada said her 4-year-old daughter Jordan has been coming since she was potty-trained. “It has helped her socially, and she’s come out ahead of most preschoolers. She can write her name.”
The reason for ending the program is the way it’s put together. It’s really three separate programs, one funded by a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and the other two by parent fees, Salgado said.
The first session of the day, which meets from 7:30 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday, is free to children who reside in one of five Altadena census tracts identified by income demographics. Individual children do not need to qualify by income. It is funded by a CDBG. The second session, noon to 4 p.m., is paid for by parents at $50 per child. The extended program costs $20 per child and runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Staff are paid by the Parks and Recreation Department.
New law restricts programs
AB 1991 has made this sort of arrangement illegal. The bill spells out what a “public recreation” facility is, and what kinds of programs are allowable. The section that applies to Loma Alta Tiny Tots is Section 1 (g)(3), which reads
The legislation prohibits preschoolers from attending more than four days per week for a total of 12 hours each week.
The program is provided to children under the age of four years and nine months with sessions that run 12 hours per week or less and are 12 weeks or less in duration. A program subject to this paragraph may permit children to be enrolled in consecutive sessions throughout the year. However, the program shall not permit children to be enrolled in a combination of sessions that total more than 12 hours per week for each child.
Not all of the children who attend the Tiny Tots program go for the entire day. Salgado said that the morning session has about 25, and that program will continue as a four-day, three-hour program. The afternoon session has about 15, and the extended session has about six, but the number varies with the needs of the parents.
At issue is not only the difficulty in finding structured, stimulating care at an affordable price, it’s finding it after the school year has begun. Pasadena Unified School District students went back to school on Aug. 22.
Hard to find replacement
“We were handed a letter to distribute to parents” along with a list of preschools and daycare facilities the county compiled, said Salgado. “We received it at the end of August. Programs have already started—most programs take in enrollment in September or July, and a lot don’t allow children to start in the middle of the school year.”
Peltzer and Estrada echo that frustration.
“We still haven’t found a place,” Estrada said. “My job is very demanding. We really need a program because we don’t have anywhere to put her during the day. A lot of schools I find are full, a lot of schools are too expensive.” She noted that many preschools and kindergartens enroll in March and April for the following fall.
“The late notice is a problem,” Peltzer said, and returning Isaac to his former preschool is “out of the question.” Prior to Tiny Tots, Isaac attended two days a week at Lake Avenue Preschool, which Peltzer said was very expensive.
Parents have been looking into other daycare, Salgado said, but “but unfortunately they are full or cost too much money.” Some of the parents do not qualify for free daycare, but do not make enough to pay for full-time care, she said. Estrada notes that many of the schools require up-front registration and enrollment fees, which some parents do not have.
Engaging community leaders
Parents are fighting to keep the program open. Peltzer says Supervisor Mike Antonovich has been a big supporter, and Estrada said her father is going to contact Antonovich and the Assembly member for the district.
Peltzer and other parents spoke at the Altadena Town Council meeting in September to comment on the need for the program and the positive affect it has had on their children and grandchildren. “I don’t know how much power they have,” he said. “It’s a big county, and a little program like this gets lost.”
Parks and Recreation held a meeting for parents a couple weeks ago, Peltzer said. About 25 parents were there along with a half dozen Parks and Recreation officials including some of the Loma Alta staff and the deputy director of county parks.
“I got the feeling from the park meeting that [Parks and Recreation] doesn’t want to be in the childcare business, in the preschool business,” Peltzer said. “I understand it’s a park and not a school.”
We asked if the program had met Isaac’s needs. “Oh, yeah, definitely. They did a great job with the summer program. I don’t want to just stick him in daycare. He needs more structure and stimulation.”
When we visited the classroom last week, we were impressed by the bright, clean classroom with activity rugs spread around, and plenty of Legos, blocks, toy vehicles, books, and art supplies. There were about nine children still present at the afternoon session, and three teachers plus Maggie Salgado. Isaac was putting together Legos with teacher Megan, and Jordan was coloring at a table with teacher Monique. The bulletin boards were filled with pictures of happy kids on field trips or at play.
“The kids love it, every week we have a special event,” Salgado said. “It’s a lot of fun, I absolutely love it.”