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Cheri Doria

Meet Cheri Doria

Director of Preschools

Lindsay Unified School District

Early childhood education is a benefit and a great investment. Nobody is more ready for school than young children. In fact, 90% of a child's brain develops by the age of five, so there's a direct effect on how the brain develops, a long-term impact on the child's health, and their ability to learn and succeed in life. Little brains are soaking up so much information. They're so curious right now, so now is the time to follow their interests and find out what they want to learn about.

Advocacy, Trust, and Resiliency for Early Learners

From the Classroom to Leadership

I grew up in Hanford, California, and now live in Woodlake, California. I began teaching in Lindsay Unified School District in August of 1999. I’ve been with the district for over 22 years.

I always knew I wanted to become a teacher. I taught elementary school for nearly ten years and about five years in, I went back to school and got my Administrative Services credential. When the Director of Preschools position became available, I thought that would be a great place to utilize my administrative credentials. Once I applied for and got the position, I began heavily researching as much as I could on early childhood education because it was so different from the elementary and the K-12 realm. It was really exciting.

I’ve been the district Preschool Director for twelve and a half years now. I oversee 13 preschool and Transitional Kindergarten (TK) learning environments and approximately 60 employees that serve about 465 preschool and TK learners. I’m the Every Child California Central Section President, a member of the Tulare County Council on Child and Youth Development, and a Tulare County Early Stars Quality Rating Improvement System Consortium member.

I’m a mother of three daughters- 18, 16, and 13 – and they keep me on my toes.

I knew as a parent the type of things that I wanted preschool to do for my children, and I want to do the same things for other people’s children. I have an amazing, passionate staff and I love to come to work every day.

The Beauty of the Central Valley

The Central Valley is home to me. It’s an agricultural region, and also very multinational and multicultural. It makes me think of orchards and the smell of orange blossoms. It gets hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Sometimes we have horrible fog, but it costs much less to live here than in Northern or Southern California and we’re less than three hours away from the beach and the mountains. I’m glad that our families get to experience different parts of life.

Families are getting up early in the morning, going to work in the fields, and coming home late at night. We work to take care of their children while they’re working hard to provide for their families. It’ll be nice if we can get back to doing field trips, so we can provide real-life experiences, instead of videos of snow and the beach.

Locking in Opportunities to Build Capacity

I’m proud of how we’ve continued to expand our programs to support children. In 2017, we became a Preschool For All (PFA) district. Every single child who is the right age that walks through our door has a place in our program, regardless of their income eligibility. We prefer preschool for two years, but if we can convince parents to do one year, we’ll do that, too.

Over the past three years, we’ve hired a full-time education specialist for our learners who are on an Individual Education Plan (IEP), and given salary raises to all of our preschool learning facilitators. We’ve hired full-time instructional assistants and a WestED trained preschool coordinator who does all of our Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS), Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) assessments and offers professional learning opportunities for our staff. Small programs like ours don’t always have a vice-principal or a learning director, so it’s nice having help from a coordinator to facilitate professional learning.

Our preschool and TK learning facilitators are now being trained in Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL) -a dual-language learning and early education initiative through the California Department of Education. When you walk into our learning environments, they are alive with SEALs.

We now have a developmentally appropriate TK program in licensed facilities with learner and adult restrooms and kitchens, and only 24 learners in each learning environment. It’s a huge accomplishment and I’m glad that the district administration has supported our hard work.

This year, we implemented two full-day, four-year-old preschool learning environments so they’re receiving a full day of instruction before they go on to kindergarten.

We expanded our migrant learner program for three and four-year-old learners to a full-day experience when we realized they needed a longer day to accommodate transportation needs and English language acquisition. We’ve found that it’s very beneficial for them.

We added a preschool and a developmentally appropriate playground to one of the elementary schools. Now, we are at five of the six elementary sites in the district.

We also were awarded the IEEEP (Inclusive Early Education Expansion Program) grant for our inclusive early education expansion program.

I have an amazing staff which has increased over the years. I’m very blessed to be working here.

Establishing Relationships by Building Trust

We often hear that we “baby” our parents, but they’re bringing their babies to us – many of them not even three years old. Some of them, especially right now, haven’t been to birthday parties, playdates, or even the park. They haven’t left the house because of COVID. We have to build that trust with them, especially during this pandemic, and let them know that we truly care about their child.

We provide our parents with whatever is needed to feel comfortable enough to enroll, including doing virtual tours, scheduling walkthroughs, and conducting transition meetings both into preschool and when they’re leaving us to go to kindergarten. If we have parents who are upset, angry, or want to be heard, we listen to them.

Our parents have relationships and daily communication with the learning facilitators. Sometimes we have babysitters who pick up and drop children off because of parents who are working in agriculture, and we make sure to maintain that communication, as well. We now have Learning Genie – an app that lots of preschools utilize where parents can send us messages and we can send them messages, too.

Our learners and families also have needs outside of education. Our Coordination of Service Team (COSTs) sits down once a month to see what more we can do to meet their needs- whether that’s a washer and a dryer, or even transportation to doctor’s appointments. We continue to try to meet all of our families’ needs and be there for them in all ways. We go above and beyond to show our parents that we care.

Advocacy for Quality TK Programs

We need to make sure that all children are offered a high-quality educational experience, particularly our four-year-old learners who are transitioning into a different system with different accountability. They still need indoor and outdoor open-ended play that is child-centered and appropriate playful learning.

Ultimately, it’s the parent’s choice and we help the parents determine the correct placement for their learner. I’m excited that all four-year-olds are going to get the opportunity for an early education experience and hope it is the high-quality, developmentally appropriate experience that they deserve.

The Many Upsides of Enrolling Young Children in Preschool

Early childhood education is a benefit and a great investment. Nobody is more ready for school than young children. In fact, 90% of a child’s brain develops by the age of five, so there’s a direct effect on how the brain develops, a long-term impact on the child’s health, and their ability to learn and succeed in life. Little brains are soaking up so much information. They’re so curious right now, so now is the time to follow their interests and find out what they want to learn about.

We do have some families that say, ‘They’re going to be in school for like another 13 years and I don’t want to start them too soon.’ There are many myths out there, too. Sometimes the work is devalued or dismissed as simple playtime, but they don’t realize that it’s intentional play. We’re teaching them how to communicate, use their words, share, and play with others. There is a reason behind every item and an intention of what they’re going to learn from it.

We have to educate parents that if they don’t enroll their child in preschool, they’re starting their child off behind all of those other learners who do have preschool. We just have to build that trust with the parents and let them know we really do care and we’re going to take care of them. And preschool is the best place for them right now.

Also, preschool is just fun. It’s their initial exposure to school and it sets the tone for their education career, helping them to develop their feelings, perceptions, and ideas about school. It helps the learners develop that love for learning.

Cultivating a Love for Learning to Navigate a Brave New World

Every day, learners should come to school and be met at their developmental level where they can be challenged and successful. We want them to be highly motivated and leave school each day wanting to return tomorrow. If they’re interested in learning about something, they should be able to take that curiosity and learn all about whatever it is that they want to learn.

Our learners need to be lifelong learners who continuously learn. I hope that our learners speak multiple languages. I think that should be something we’re striving for. I want them to choose the future they desire and go towards that goal, so when they graduate from high school, they’re ready for college, employment, or designing their own future.

I want them to embrace the diversity around them- diversity of cultures, religions, ethnicities, and a way of viewing the world. I want them to build positive, validating, meaningful relationships with lots of people so they can have a deep love and respect for themselves and others in the world that we live in today.

Published on the James B. McClatchy Foundation website using the Creative Commons License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/ : Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)