Head east along Interstate 8, well beyond the jammed freeways and bustling suburban neighborhoods, and you'll find a vast panorama of steep, rocky mountains, hundred-year-old oak trees, and a special community. Nestled in that community is a new center just for children: the Campo Kumeyaay Early Education Learning Center.
The Campo Kumeyaay center is the result of five years of work and collaboration between the Mountain Empire Union School District, Campo Kumeyaay Indian Nation, and federal Head Start program. It's the first of its kind, not only in San Diego County but in all of California.
The trio celebrated the achievement with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 27. The center -- on Old Highway 80 in Boulevard -- serves children in the communities of Boulevard, Campo, Descanso, Jacumba, Pine Valley, and Potrero.
Efforts for the early education center began when an assessment of the area showed the need for a quality preschool program with comprehensive services that served children and families living on the Campo Kumeyaay Indian Reservation and in the surrounding communities. Parents, community members, and tribal members requested funding so that their children could stay in the Campo area and be a part of the school district. The Mountain Empire district was awarded a federal Head Start grant. The district then partnered with the San Diego County Office of Education to receive the First 5 San Diego Quality Preschool Initiative funding for staff development and training, coaching, materials and supplies, stipends to instructional staff, and preschool equipment.
At the opening ceremony, tribal Treasurer Marcus Cuero and tribal Vice Chairman Paul Cuero Jr. performed a first blessing, which was followed by a dedication from Mountain Empire Superintendent Kathy Granger. Granger recognized the work of the collaborative, as well as the support and dedication of Director Crystal Hart, teachers, parents, volunteers, and federal Head Start staff members. Also on hand were Mountain Empire board President Ken Northcote and trustee Chris Anderson. The program concluded with a performance by the center's 20 children.
First 5 San Diego has provided funding through the San Diego County Office of Education's Quality Preschool Initiative (QPI) and were also acknowledged for enhanced professional development and coaches for instructional staff, classroom materials and supplies, furniture and stipends for participation in QPI activities. The school district has provided services for health, mental health, special education, kindergarten transition, and maintenance. Parents have the opportunity to participate in the Head Start Parent Council, and to receive comprehensive family services. "We have the most wonderful, dedicated teachers in our program," said Hart, adding that they have received a 100 percent score on their first Head Start Compliance Review.
Parents are excited about the program and about the many positive changes they see in their children.
"My son loves going to school and seeing all his friends and his favorite teachers," parent Victoria Leon said. "It's a great school because they are very hands-on. My son has learned so much in the little time he has been there."