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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.

Family resource center prepares Nogales family for children’s school experience

Marisla Diaz’s son was nearing his first birthday when she sought out classes to deepen her parenting skills in support of her first child’s growth and development.

With young Jesus in tow, she started attending classes at the Nogales Family Resource Center, which offers families with children up to age 5 various classes, activities and social events. In one of her early classes, the mother learned about the importance of nurturing a healthy parent-child relationship, while her child engaged in age-appropriate activities. 

The First Things First Santa Cruz Regional Partnership Council funds the center, which is run through a partnership between the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension and the Nogales Unified School District.  

Diaz liked their experiences, so she kept going back to the resource center. 

“I liked the mix of classes,” she said. “You learn while spending time with your kids in a different environment. The kids also get to learn and spend time with other kids the same age.” 

Families have free access to a dozen different parenting classes offered in English and Spanish. Diaz has attended them all. Jesus, now 5, still goes to the resource center once a week as does his younger sister, Marisla, 3. 

Stephanie Garcia, the center’s site coordinator, said the goal is to help children like Jesus and his sister Marisla, get ready for kindergarten. The program targets children up to age 5 because it is considered a critical period for brain development.

Jesus already has learned skills that will prove useful when he starts kindergarten in the fall, she said. Since he recognizes most letters and knows how to properly hold a pencil, “he’s not going to be struggling.”

In the near future, Garcia said, the center’s early literacy activities that aim to instill a love of reading while improving vocabulary, comprehension and attention span, will make it easier for Jesus to learn to read. 

“All the classes are really good, they encourage the kids to read books, they do activities that go with the books, they practice with scissors,” said Marisla Diaz’. “As they get older, they start doing activities that are a little bit harder, they prepare them for school very well.”

When Diaz expressed concern over her son’s language development, the resource center guided the mother through the process of securing speech therapy for Jesus through the Nogales Unified School District. “He had a speech delay and I was iffy about starting that process,” she said. “The staff at the center made it easier.”

The speech therapy that her son has received since he was a toddler has helped him improve his verbal communication, Diaz said. “He’s still taking it now because he’s still working on his pronunciation, but you can understand what he’s trying to tell you.”

Jesus is now in preschool, where the skills he learned at the resource center already have served him well, according to feedback teachers have given his mother. 

“It does make a difference,” said Diaz, who seeks to ensure a similar learning experience for her daughter. 

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