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Region Stories

These stories illustrate how early childhood programs and services funded by First Things First make a difference for young children and families in communities across Arizona.

Brianna Spadafora is Phoenix South’s 2017 Champion for Young Children

Brianna Spadafora has been selected as the 2017 Phoenix South First Things First Champion for Young Children.

The award is given to local champions who actively volunteer their time to raise public awareness of the importance of early childhood development and health. Champions spend a significant amount of time volunteering with FTF and building public awareness about the importance of early childhood issues.

Brianna Spadafora engaged in awareness-raising efforts such as:

  • Organizing three parent presentations.
  • Distributing FTF educational items at school events and in her parent room.
  • Leading a meeting to introduce FTF to her contacts at Teach for America, resulting in a statewide sponsorship, training and tabling opportunity.

We recently caught up with Spadafora, who is a Parent and Community Liaison at Pioneer Preparatory School in Maryvale.

Question: Why do you feel early childhood development and health is so important?

Answer: Before serving as Community Coordinator at Pioneer Preparatory School in Maryvale, I taught 6th grade for three years. Both experiences have made it clear that educating children from an early age and keeping them healthy have a vital impact on their future outcomes. From an educational standpoint, children who are engaged academically—i.e. learning numbers, colors, letters, building vocabulary—at an early age are much more prepared for kindergarten, ensuring a strong foundation for the rest of their educational experience. As a 6th grade teacher, it was very clear which scholars had these early educational experiences and which did not. The gap in knowledge and vocabulary for some scholars was overwhelming, resulting in frustration for the student as they struggled to catch up to their peers. This gap only continues to widen once a student reaches high school, where their academic performance directly affects their options after, and if, they graduate. Of course, in some situations this gap can be narrowed, or even closed, but an early childhood education can help prevent the discrepancy in the first place. The health of our children from an early age is indeed even more vital than their educational development, as they need to be present and healthy at school if they are to fully invest in their own education.

Q: What caused you to get involved in efforts to increase public awareness in early childhood issues?

A: During my first month in my role as Community Coordinator, I was introduced to First Things First by a colleague at our sister school, Western School of Science and Technology. It was immediately obvious to me that our school’s parents and caregivers needed to connect with this organization, which offers a ton of free resources to families with young children. After inviting Theresa Londoño, a Community Outreach Coordinator from FTF, to one of our PTSA meetings, she enthusiastically continued to visit the school throughout the year to deliver information and resources to our families. Being a former Teach For America Corps Member, it also occurred to me to connect FTF with TFA, so that other schools and educational organizations could benefit from the wealth of information that First Things First has to offer. All of these efforts came about really organically. It just made sense to connect First Things First with the other groups I’ve worked with, and everyone else took it from there!

Q: Why do you feel building awareness in early childhood and developmental health is so important for families and communities?

A: Ultimately, all families love their children and want what is best for them. But not all families have resources readily available to keep their children healthy and prepare them for success in school. When parents and caregivers are educated on the importance of early childhood development and health, and its impact on their child’s future, they are better equipped to expose their child to early educational opportunities. Providing parents and caregivers with resources in this area strengthens their capacity to prepare their child for all of life’s obstacles, both in and out of school. This preparation and prevention lead to strong communities comprised of happy and healthy individuals.

Q: How have you seen awareness for the early years change in your community?

A: The greatest change I’ve seen recently is the implementation of an Early Learning Readiness class at Pioneer Prep. The ELR class is offered to parents and caregivers of children age birth to 5. Parents come to the class with their children, where they participate in several centers that access different types of knowledge—art, math, drama, science, and more. The children also participate in social skills activities throughout the class. I truly believe that this class is instrumental in preparing the children and their parents for learning in kindergarten and beyond. The Maryvale YMCA has offered this class for years, but they recently started hosting it on our school campus in one of our classrooms. This has sparked interest amongst Pioneer parents to enroll their young ones in the class, ultimately preparing students for a K-6 education at Pioneer.

Q: How do you suggest other people in your community get involved?

A: The way I got involved was so simple. I knew of families who craved information and resources, I saw First Things First providing exactly that, I put the two in contact with each other, and essentially my work was done! For those who want to get involved, start by checking out the FTF website, which is a fountain of resources and support. From there you can contact an outreach coordinator to give a presentation to parents and caregivers you may know who could benefit from information about early childhood development. FTF is connected with so many wonderful organizations that can provide additional support for parents and caregivers of young children and all of these organizations are incredibly eager to provide their services to those in need. All we have to do is make families aware of these resources and actually utilize them! Simple as that.

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