Florida's First Lady Ann Scott visited Immokalee Monday, sharing her passion for literacy by reading to thirty students in the Guadalupe Center's Early Childhood Education Program. The program serves children from six weeks to five years old.
"It's very exciting to see the First Lady take on literacy as an initiative, and understanding how important early learning is in getting ready for kindergarten and beyond," said Susan Block, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida.
The governor's wife took a tour of the center's classrooms, seeing for herself how committed teachers like Bertha Mendez are about preparing their preschoolers for success.
"We try to make reading fun and interactive," Mendez said. "We focus a lot on literacy, because we have a lot of Spanish-speaking children. So they learn English and other things through the Guadalupe program, which is really exciting."
"The most important thing about early learning is, it's not babysitting," said Dawn Montecalvo, president of the Guadalupe Center. "This is really starting to give them a foundation."
The Guadalupe Center started as a soup kitchen in the 1980s, and began to offer tutoring after volunteers noticed an alarming number of the children were struggling with school work.
Now, Montecalvo said that Immokalee school principals tell her their students who come from the early learning program have an advantage, starting in kindergarten and going through high school.
"We see children in our program, who by the time they get to high school, are our top-achieving students," Montecalvo said.
The dividends pay even beyond high school. The center also has a program for teens to earn scholarship money by working as tutors after school.
"We have a hundred students in that program," Montecalvo said. "We are getting them on the path to college."
She added that while the Guadalupe Center teaches more than three hundred students, the program has a waiting list of over five hundred. She hopes they will be able to expand within three years.