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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.

Quality First scholarships allow two sisters to access high-quality care

Mom hugging her two daughters

Angelina Ramirez is a single mom who is determined to provide the best for her two daughters, Ella and Jewel.

However, as a working mom, affording quality child care can be difficult. There was a time when Ramirez had family members watch her oldest daughter, Jewel. “She would be in front of a television all day,” said Ramirez.

Then she applied and received a scholarship to attend the Early Education Child Care Center in Sacaton, which participates in First Things First’s (FTF) signature program, Quality First. Her scholarship was one of 48 Quality First scholarships funded by FTF Gila River Indian Community Regional Partnership Council in State Fiscal Year 2019. Quality First scholarships help eligible families afford to send their child to quality child care centers and preschools.

FTF’s Quality First program partners with child care and preschool providers across Arizona to improve the quality of early learning. Quality First funds 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.

“Jewel started at the center when she was 7 months old,” said Ramirez. “Her motor skills weren’t developed. She flopped and didn’t hold her head up. Her teachers worked with her on motor activities, like counting and scooping.”

Jewel started to develop at a fast rate and performing above average. Now 2, Jewel has a vocabulary of almost 100 words, knows the alphabet and can count to 10. She’s also developed social skills to interact well with her teachers and other children.

When Ramirez had her second daughter, Ella, she applied for a second Quality First scholarship and received it. Ramirez said Ella is now 3 months old and receiving wonderful care.

“Ella needs comfort, embracing and holding. They do that,” said Ramirez. “They hold the children like they were their own. They cradle and rock and sing to them, everything a mother would do.”

The Quality First teachers are trained to be attuned to each child’s needs. Ramirez said she’s seen that in the way they treat her children.

“Jewel’s teachers really work with her one-on-one,” Ramirez said. “She’s also in her terrible twos, so they discipline her right away by having her take a seat next to the teacher. She’s learning to say ‘thank you’ or apologize. She loves going there because she’s treated with respect, and she is learning.”

Ramirez also likes the way the teachers interact with her by providing photos throughout the day and a daily form that reports what her children ate, when diapers are changed, nap times and what they played with and learned.

“I get paid a little more than minimum wage,” said Ramirez. “I wouldn’t be able to afford to the quality care my children deserve without these scholarships. Both of my children are performing above average and receiving quality care. I’m blessed and amazed.”

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