OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — In one tough East Bay neighborhood, children are blooming like a beautiful lotus flower grows from the mud. That’s the vision driving this week’s Jefferson Award winner.
Happy preschool children squirmed around in a haphazard circle at the Lotus Bloom Child & Family Resource Center in Oakland.
“If you’re happy and you know it, stomp your feet!” they called out.
“When children associate school and learning as a happy and joyful experience, they’ll have that for the rest of their lives,” commented founder and director Angela Louie Howard.
The center has become a bright spot amid the crime Howard sees in her San Antonio neighborhood. Children up to five years old attend, many with their parents, for preschool basics like ABCs, art, story time and even gardening.
Four-year-old Mia Ortiz-Nelson said she likes the music. “Like Twinkle, Twinkle or Mr. Sun, Sun. That’s all I have. I love singing!” she said.
Howard said the idea for Lotus Bloom sprouted in 2006, when she attended a neighborhood meeting on early childhood education and heard some troubling statistics.
“Eighty-six percent of the third graders were not reading and testing at grade level,” Howard remembered. “That was due to kids who were coming into kindergarten with no previous early learning or preschool background.”
That inspired Howard to found Lotus Bloom, which has blossomed into five Oakland centers serving 300 children. Funded mostly by grants, it offers most parents free or low-cost tuition.
Martha Tafoya cares for 2-year-old family friend Edwin Lugo. She’s noticed a transformation.
“They prepare them – very confident – to socialize with different ethnic groups,” Tafoya explained.
Howard, whose background is in education and community programs, makes it a point to celebrate the children’s diversity. She grew up in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunter’s Point, where she says she was mocked for being Asian.
“Nobody told me that the language Chinese was beautiful, so I grew up with the association of people making fun of it,” she said.
So Lotus Bloom teaches kids songs and numbers in English, Chinese, Japanese and Spanish. Elizabeth Nelson said Angela’s built a foundation for her daughter Mia’s future, and described Howard as, “Creative, powerful, educated, and fun.”
“Every time I think about the kids’ little faces and see them laughing together, that’s my joy,” Howard added.
So for preparing Oakland preschool children for kindergarten through a love of learning, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Angela Louie Howard.
Watch the KPIX feature story here:
Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.