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Achieving Preschool Excellence (APEX)

At Oakland Family Services’ APEX Preschool Program, not only do Pontiac children have access to a high-quality preschool at low to no cost, they and their families enter a community of caring people who leverage the agency’s resources to ensure each family has what it needs to thrive.  
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable? 
Oakland Family Services Service Specialist Letty Tovar McCloud: Our program has had quite a success rate. Parents like to come here because we offer a full-time program. Other programs like Head Start only go three hours a day. Our lead teachers have to have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.
Our families like the program; we have had their children and then their children’s children come back. We follow the High/Scope curriculum, and we track them up until the second grade. We call every year and talk to teachers and see how a child has done in certain areas, which is how we track the children who have left our program and are going into public and
We don’t just work with children; once we enroll a child, we really enroll the whole family.
private school.
We don’t just work with children; once we enroll a child, we really enroll the whole family. If the family has any issues going on in the home we can address those issues.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year? 
Trying to understand and meet the needs of our families. We have a lot of children that come from single-parent homes, so we had a training to make us aware of what these families actually go through. Sometimes staff would get frustrated with families coming in late or not showing up, but we have to put ourselves in their position. They have a lot of issues going on.
We did a little skit with just our staff. We had a box for each company such as gas, electric, etc. and they’d get the calls, “you’re behind, when can you pay? Your gas is going to be shut off.”  Or they don’t have enough food in the home to feed their family. Those are everyday issues that our families have going on, and we have to make ourselves aware of how difficult it can be for our families to meet everyday needs.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
Probably the toughest piece for all of us is the whole cramming expectations on to a four-year-old. It used to be that preschool was a time to learn social interaction--now with things being pushed down it makes it more difficult when they have all the pressures for academics. Everyone who goes through early childhood education and gets a degree in early childhood knows that children need time to explore and learn at a natural level with their own curiosity.  
What really differentiates this program?
I just think the staff -- the caring that the teachers really do have for the children.
Because we work in this agency we are able to offer a lot more services for families and even for the child. If they are having some type of issues, we can refer them to one of therapists here in our agency and everything is provided free for them. This agency has such a good reputation within the community.
What are the keys to success for your program?
I would have to say that connecting with the families is so important. We take the time to get to know the family and listen to what their wants/needs are and also, celebrate the families' strengths. We always tell parents who are enrolling their child
Everyone who goes through early childhood education and gets a degree in early childhood knows that children need time to explore and learn at a natural level with their own curiosity.
into the program, "We aren't just enrolling your child. We are enrolling the entire family. Because a successful family will lead to a successful child.”
How do race or diversity affect the work of your program?
We have a large Hispanic population. For our Spanish-speaking families we have at least four bilingual teachers in the classroom. That in itself lets families feel like “oh, good, I’ll be able to talk with my children’s teachers, I’ll be able to communicate. There will not be that language barrier.”
Staff have to understand what kind of home life these children are coming from, especially living in Pontiac. They have to understand the families and the community where these families are coming from. Once they understand that, they have to build a trust with the families. I think you have to be aware and have to be compassionate and understanding of families, and you can’t judge.
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