Catreina Robertson knew she wanted to enroll her daughter Kaitlyn at the preschool at Many Farms Public School in the Chinle Unified School District.
Years earlier, Robertson, who is the registrar attendance clerk at Many Farms School, had enrolled her oldest daughter, Kayley in the preschool, which is part of the First Things First Quality First program. Kayley, now in the fifth grade is doing excellent academically and Robertson said it started with the skills she learned in preschool.
The First Things First Navajo Nation Regional Council funds the Quality First program, which partners with child care and preschool providers to improve the quality of early learning development across the Navajo Nation.
Quality First provides quality improvements that research proves help children thrive, such as training for teachers to expand their skills and to help create learning environments that nurture the emotional, social and academic development of every child. The Many Farms Elementary Preschool recently achieved the highest level of quality rating in the Quality First program.
But right around the time it was time for Kaitlyn to enroll, the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit especially hard on the Navajo Nation. This unfortunately also caused a personal setback for Kaitlyn’s developmental growth.
The Navajo Nation issued a stay-at-home mandate in March 2020, which prevented Navajo families from traveling outside and within the reservation. However, Robertson did her best to teach her children at home during the pandemic, but it was very difficult and family resources were not accessible.
“I had to make do with what was available within our home,” Robertson said.
In 2021, after a year of pandemic mandates, Robertson was able to finally enroll Kaitlyn into the Many Farms preschool program and with the same teacher, Roslyn Elliott, who had taught Robertson’s older daughter.
Robertson told the teacher her concerns about her daughter’s speech difficulties, which included Kaitlyn stuttering and overall unable to speak clearly and with confidence.
“I knew my daughter was in good hands and I was confident that the program would better her speaking skills,” Robertson said.
Elliott quickly got to work with Kaitlyn by helping her focus on the words she was trying to say and to pronounce them slowly.
“I gave Kaitlyn time when she spoke,” Elliott said. “I encouraged her to have conversations with me and also gave her time to have conversations with other students. And having a speech pathologist at the school is also a great resource for the teachers. All this combined is what helped Kaitlyn improve her speech.”
Kaitlyn is now 5 years old and in kindergarten and is able to speak in full sentences. She also is reading at the second-grade level, while also being able to count to 100. Robertson credits the skills she learned in preschool for the strong start.
“The program made a big difference in Kaitlyn’s development,” Robertson said.