StarVista is educating children, parents alike 

click to enlarge StarVista employee Leslie Garcia, left, speaks to Lorena Medina, whose sons benefited from the program. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • courtesy photo
  • StarVista employee Leslie Garcia, left, speaks to Lorena Medina, whose sons benefited from the program.

The benefits of early childhood education are abundant, and one of San Mateo County's largest nonprofits is working to ensure that kids from all socio-economic groups reap the benefits.

StarVista offers 10- to 12-week courses in which parents and children come together for structured play dates to become acclimated to the types of experiences they'll have in preschool and kindergarten. The nonprofit also offers free, in-home visits to help clients develop their parenting skills.

"Part of what we want to see is the parent feeling more confident about being able to really support their child's early development and learning skills," said StarVista CEO Sara Larios Mitchell.

That confidence also extends to the children.

Lorena Medina is originally from Guatemala, and she's lived in the United States since 1991. Her husband works as a cook in an upscale restaurant and she has three sons, two of whom are in StarVista's Learning Together program.

Medina said the program has allowed her 4-year-old son to be more social and polite.

"If there's a kid on the slide, he says, 'Excuse me, I'm going to come down, and don't want to hurt you,'" Medina said.

Medina credits the program with helping to avert separation anxiety when her son began preschool.

"He loves school," she said, "it's like he's already been to preschool."

Good outcomes are what persuaded Daly City Vice Mayor David Canepa to join the organization's board of directors. He says he got involved because he heard about the work they were doing and was impressed with the results.

"What StarVista does is important," Canepa said, "because they take responsibility for making sure people who may be on the fringes have the resources to meet their full potential."

StarVista offers many other services, including a crisis hotline, drug and alcohol treatment, diversion programs, and transitional housing and coaching for young adults who've aged out of the foster care system. Larios Mitchell said funding comes from a variety of foundations, grants and county contracts. She said Learning Together receives funds from the tobacco tax via the county's First 5 program.

"We've always been able to get continuous funding because we've always been able to show good outcomes," Larios Mitchell said.

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