By Christian Martinez
Tucked into a quiet and primarily residential neighborhood of Oxnard lies Encanto Center, a Head Start preschool that exclusively serves the children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers.
The Encanto site is one of several programs supported by the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County Inc., a nonprofit with a focus on eliminating poverty throughout southern and central California.
Most children at the federally funded school stay the entire day, which begins at 5:30 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m. Transportation to the school begins at 4:30 a.m., school officials said.
U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, which includes most of Ventura County, visited the school and its 36 students Thursday morning.
It was the first of two stops Brownley made Thursday. She also planned to stop at Cordoba Guitars’ distribution center in Oxnard.
Rosa Arellano, the preschool’s supervisor, said families must make 50 percent or more of their income from agricultural work to qualify for admittance to the program, which runs seven months a year.
On Thursday, Brownley entered the main classroom of the school and was welcomed by the staff before being led out to the busy play yard, where groups of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds ran and jumped and climbed over play equipment.
The congresswoman walked across the yard to Alexander Jimenez, 5, and Mille Fuentes, 4, who were painting pictures of fruits.
Alexander froze when asked to identify one of the pictures.
“He’s shy,” Brownley said.
She entered the toddler room where the class was being read a book by teacher Rosalia Ramirez. The congresswoman sat with the children as they read and introduced themselves.
Before she departed, Brownley received a gift, a painting made with the fingerprints of all the students.
“It’s always good to actually come to the site to remind (myself) how important the program is,” she said.
“I know the parents are probably very worried and concerned.”
While Mariela Guido, the local area manager for Community Action Partnership, was happy that the congresswoman had visited her site, she was nonetheless direct in her concerns.
“We are waiting” for a new budget, Guido said to Brownley.
The price of “everything goes up, and we still have the same budget,” she said. “We try to keep the same months of service” and the same number of slots for children, she said.
Staff members know, Guido said, that if things don’t go well, there could be cuts to employment.
Brownley said that upon her return to Washington, D.C., she would advocate for funding for the migrant and seasonal Head Start programs in the new budget.
For all children to succeed in school, later on, getting an early start is imperative, she said. That’s been part of the disparity in our educational system, Brownley said.
If the programs could be funded more robustly, “I would be in favor of that,” the congresswoman said.
Guido said program administrators are already considering options in the event that the budget for migrant Head Start programs is cut.
“These are the two options: either serve fewer kids and cut staff or have fewer weeks of service,” she said.
Irene Galicia, the family service advocate for the site, said: “If these services weren’t available for the parents, then they would have to look elsewhere.”
Baby sitters, Guido added, can cost as much as half of a family’s salary.