MERIDEN — With the demographic shift in population of Latinos in Meriden, the YMCA implemented bilingual resources and child care programs for Spanish-speaking families.
Meriden has 60,242 residents with 5.6 percent of them ages 5 and under. Thirty-six percent of the Meriden population identifies as Hispanic or Latino with 59 percent of the student population identified as Latino, according to the 2022 U.S. Census Bureau.
Recently, the YMCA started developing bilingual child care enrollment materials with the help of Raquel Diaz, child care director of Meriden YMCA Early Learning Center and Hanover Little Hounds Preschool.
Diaz fielded many inquiries about their programs since resources have been translated to Spanish.
“We translated the application in the handbook into Spanish so that it is easier,” Diaz said. “When seeing the application, it makes the families feel more comfortable to call and ask questions.”
The Meriden YMCA has eight different locations for child care, and with at least two bilingual teachers present. This includes their infants, toddlers and preschool section.
“The process of translating the materials started last year,” Diaz said. “We were getting a lot of families who were coming from Guatemala and Ecuador and we wanted to be more accessible and welcoming to them.”
How much does it cost?
The YMCA has been supportive of families that have recently moved from their home country and are struggling with finding employment.
Most of the programs the YMCA offers run on a sliding cost scale, which adjusts to the needs and income of individuals or families.
“We have grants, so for parents who may not have income, we still take their child in and charge them a zero dollar fee,” Diaz explained. “This is to give them the opportunity to job search while their child is learning and interacting with other children.”
This is a way that the YMCA builds trust and communication with Latino families.
How does the bilingual program work?
Diaz always explains to families the importance of early childhood development and how school readiness programs benefit children.
“A child can fall behind and may have to work twice as hard to keep up with the other children once they start kindergarten,” she said.
What is being taught?
At the YMCA Early Learning Center Preschool on 12 Johnson Ave., Jennifer Rodriguez, head teacher of one of the preschool’s classrooms, shared their learning process.
The preschool is open from 7:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
“During the day they get a chance to experience multiple activities,” she said. “The children learn to write, read and play with different materials in order to engage with each other.”
While the children learn about numbers, animals, and colors, Rodriguez said it is important to go back and forth between Spanish and English.
“We were just reading stories in Spanish recently,” Rodriguez said. “It is also beneficial to students who are learning Spanish.”
How are parents responding?
Jhoayra Hernández, of Meriden, found the bilingual program to be helpful to not only her daughter, but to herself. She enrolled her 3-year-old daughter Emma Mendez Hernández into the program about a year ago. It was an easy process due to the resources and help from the directors and teachers.
When looking for preschool for her daughter, Hernández was looking for bilingual programs. Since Hernández grew up in Cotui, Dominican Republic, her first language was Spanish. She started learning English once coming to the United States in 2013.
“At first, I was a little worried when looking for a preschool for Emma because she didn’t know any English. We only spoke Spanish at home,” she said. “I’m not fluent myself and I was nervous that Emma wasn’t going to be able to adapt and communicate with the other students and teachers.”
Now, Mendez is bilingual, switching between both languages depending on who she is talking to.
“She has learned so much English here,” Hernández said. “We still only speak Spanish at home so she can maintain both languages.”
According to Diaz, it hasn’t been difficult switching between languages with the students.
“Even though the children may speak different languages, it does not cause any barriers,” she said. “When it comes to learning a second language at a young age, they absorb and retain it better.”
Zaireliz Gaston, Meriden resident and worker at the Early Learning Center Preschool, also enrolled her 2-year-old daughter Hazeliz Gaston into the program when she was 6 months old.
“That's also when I started working here,” she said. “I saw that it was a great program and that my daughter would be able to learn both languages. I speak Spanish at home with her because she will speak English everywhere else.”