5-year-old Connie doesn’t remember much of her life before moving to Seattle. She was just a baby when she left China with her parents. Her mom, Jennifer, however, vividly remembers the challenge of learning a new language, meeting new people and adjusting to a new culture half a world away.
“Asian culture and Western culture are really different,” says Jennifer. “In China, I had heard about Western education and knew it was very different than what my husband and I were used to.”
Shortly after the family’s move, Jennifer sought out the bilingual and bicultural staff at Chinese Information and Service Center, a nonprofit that offers support and resources to roughly 20,000 immigrants every year. One of its programs, Parent-Child Home Program, is uniquely funded by United Way of King County, the City of Seattle and King County’s Best Starts for Kids initiative. It was of special interest to Jennifer.
“Connie was the only child in the house and quite shy. She didn’t have much of a chance to meet new people.”
In the Parent-Child Home Program or PCHP, a home visitor with a similar cultural background meets with a 2- or 3-year-old and their family twice a week, bringing with them books and educational toys. PCHP home visitor Queena met with Connie, Jennifer and her husband throughout the 2-year program. “I remember Jennifer and her husband would always say, ‘Say hi to coach and say bye.’” It took time but after a few months, Connie was excited. She liked opening the door for me to say hi.”
Queena and other home visitors model positive interaction, demonstrating to parents that they are their child’s first and best teacher. United Way has scaled the program to reach 1,300 families, knowing the odds are stacked again low-income children: 3 out of 4 underserved kids in Washington State start kindergarten behind their peers. With PCHP, 85 percent of students showed significant increases in school-readiness skills like focusing on activities and using language to communicate needs.
“I think this program has really prepared Connie for kindergarten, especially when it comes to social skills,” says Jennifer.
While Connie is excited to make new friends in kindergarten this fall, Jennifer is also entering a new chapter: She recently accepted a position as a PCHP home visitor, working with a dozen children and their families who, in many ways, mirror her own.
“Even though my English is not good, I have the same background as my clients and I think that makes it easy to build up that connection, that relationship. I’d like to share my experience with my families and show them how to get involved and interact with their children. It’s such a pleasure to be a part of this program.”