Yanerys Aziz: Caring & Teaching
Yanerys Aziz is taking notes, and when she isn't writing she is asking questions. Aziz, along with two dozen other childcare providers, is attending an evening workshop sponsored by All Our Kin, a New Haven nonprofit that assists about 350 home-daycare professionals in Connecticut.
She is determined to learn as much as she can so she can help the children in her care learn more. After matriculating at her West Haven home, they will be off to kindergarten.
At that point, remarkably, most of her young scholars will be bilingual — trilingual, when sign language is added to Spanish and English. Virtually all arrive speaking one language, or none.
Yanerys Aziz's takeaway from the PowerPoint presentation is that "less is often more" when it comes to the educational setting that she has created for her nine preschoolers, in what used to be her family room. She vows to "de-clutter" the learning spaces and has since repainted the walls a more neutral color.
Aziz established her state-licensed operation, Little Superstars Family Daycare, in 2007 with the help of All Our Kin, which has worked closely with her ever since. She understands firsthand the value of education.
Aziz came to the United States in 1991 from the Dominican Republic speaking only Spanish, and her first job was as a housekeeper at a Hartford hotel. Now a U.S. citizen, she mastered English at Capital Community College and studied early childhood education at Gateway Community College. Two of her and her husband's children are now attending college.
Paula Simpson, All Our Kin's senior educational consultant, talks and visits with Aziz regularly. "Yanerys came to us with a lot of knowledge and understanding, and is someone who always is wanting to learn and do better," she said. Simpson, who has a degree in early childhood education and worked for 20 years as a teacher at the Yale Divinity Nursery School, believes that what Aziz and her peers do is critical to how children fare later in life: "One of the most important things kindergarten teachers look for in their students is emotional regulation, children that can work in a group, that will listen and follow a few simple directions, and are able to take care of their emotions. The way children get to that point is for the grownups in their lives to be responsive to them, to listen to them, to talk to them, to give them the security to explore and try new things."
In addition to emotional maturity, reading, writing and arithmetic are important, too.
"I have bilingual books and when I'm reading a story I read in both languages," Aziz said. "But sitting down and reading a story is not enough, you have to constantly repeat words all day. You have to show them. If I'm holding a book I say 'book' and then I say 'libro,' over and over again. All through the day I am speaking both languages."
Not incidentally, Aziz, whose upbeat personality conjures memories of a favorite elementary school teacher, also sings to her charges in both languages.
Now in its 18th year, All Our Kin was founded to help people like Yanerys Aziz, who provide a vital service in their communities. In addition to helping children get ready for school, affordable childcare has proven to be an economic stimulus. Daycare owners can make $25,000 or more a year, and a study by the University of Connecticut's Center for Economic Analysis found that each individual licensed with the aid of All Our Kin enables four to five parents to enter the workforce.
Operating from its headquarters on Chapel Street, AOK has opened two new offices since 2012, in Bridgeport and Stamford, and its "strategic growth plan" calls for it to establish a presence in several additional cities by 2021.
"There are many things about family childcare that make it special," said Alison Wunder Stahl, director of AOK's New Haven office. "It's about flexible hours, and cultural and neighborhood responsiveness; it may be more affordable, and parents work with one person rather than a large staff."
Jessica Sager, who co-founded All Our Kin with Janna Wagner, said the coming expansion will involve more than additional offices: "We do want to add more All Our Kins in new places, but there already are people out there who are doing a good job with family childcare providers, so part of our expansion plan is working with other agencies." She also pointed out that AOK services include advice on how to operate a small business, financial aid and zero-interest loans for capital purchases such as books, educational toys, and child-sized furniture.
A recently concluded two-year study commissioned by AOK found that children in family daycares that worked with the organization had higher scores than national norms in language and math assessment.
The results confirm Yanerys Aziz's own informal survey: "The children leave my daycare knowing a lot. Their parents tell me that their kids are doing well in school, and their teachers tell me they have great manners."