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Spanish-Speaking Preschoolers Find a Promise for Success

By Lauren Hollon
Buckner International

TYLER, Texas — Students at Niños de Promesa are looking at a promising future.

Like many preschools, they spend time listening to stories, playing with blocks and toys, painting, cutting, coloring and playing pretend, but the focus at Niños de Promesa is to prepare students to speak and understand English when they start elementary school.

“We do welcome children from all ethnic groups, but our focus is Hispanic children,” said director Astilma Vargas.

Niños de Promesa is a collaboration between Buckner, First Baptist Church of Tyler, United Way and the Texas Department of Agriculture. Tuition is determined on a sliding scale based on what parents can afford.

Parent Esmeralda Serrano said the school is a great option for working mothers, because a daycare can cost the same amount or more, but children learn much more at the preschool.

Her husband, Roberto, said they couldn’t be happier with the progress 5-year-old Isaac has made in his two years at Niños de Promesa.

“We have seen a big improvement in the way he speaks and in his conversation,” he said. “He gets excited about everything he learns at school, especially the sounds of the letters.”

Oralia Hood, a Talented and Gifted teacher at Tyler ISD’s TARGET Academy, taught Niños de Promesa graduates when she was a bilingual teacher at Calwell Elementary.

“My colleagues and I saw a noticeable difference in their preparation for school,” Hood said. “I thought, ‘Where are these kids coming from?’ It’s a great, great program.”

Patti Martinez also taught bilingual classes in Calwell Elementary. Her husband, a chemical engineer, served on the board of Niños de Promesa.

“My kindergarten teacher colleagues were really impressed with the academic knowledge of the kids who came in from Niños de Promesa,” she said. “A lot of the children were coming into public school from homes where they didn’t speak English, but they were being put in regular English classes because they had learned their letters and their pre-reading skills at Niños,”

Her own son, Robbie, attended school at Niños de Promesa. As a second grader, he still remembers experiences he had during his foundational years in preschool.

“A big plus was that it embraced the Spanish culture and the language and the music and the heritage,” Martinez said. “I’m Hispanic and my husband is Hispanic. When we moved to Tyler from growing up in South Texas, we really wanted our children to be surrounded by that and understand the culture.”

Antonia Garcia, a teacher at Niños de Promesa, said knowing English is a huge benefit to students when they enter public school. Ninety-eight percent of Niños de Promesa graduates pass the English proficiency test, she said.

To help support Ninos de Promesa, please call Buckner Foundation at 214-758-8000.

For more information about the program, visit www.ninosdepromesa.com.

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