Part of our #100days100stories countdown to Election Day. Share your story at prekforpa.org/join.

SONJA CLAXTON, PHILADELPHIA, PA
“I graduated in 2008, during the Great Recession, and was expecting my first child two months later. Each night, I put my baby, Lailah, to bed and stayed up for hours looking for work. I had no job prospects and decided instead to focus on caring for my newborn. We spent most of our days between the park and the library. She got her first library card at 6 months old, and almost every day we stopped in for new books.
“The economic strains were too much to bear for my husband, so we split and my daughter and I would soon find ourselves homeless and penniless. Despite the circumstances, we were always able to locate our closest library. But there were only so many trips to the library one could take. After spending a year at home with me, I recognized my daughter needed something more – to socialize with other children. I enrolled her in daycare, only to hear teachers screaming at children to go to the potty and watch children propped in front of the TV.
“I stumbled upon the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s (CHOP) Early Head Start program, a home visitation program for low-income parents of children ages 0-3. During our time at the Early Head Start program, Lailah and I participated in socialization activities for families and children – including messy activities with paper and glue, sing-alongs and story time.
“I was soon employed but didn’t make enough to cover the cost of full-time pre-k. My counselors at Early Head Start encouraged me to apply for the federal Head Start program as well as Bright Futures and Pre-K Counts. Through Early Head Start, I learned about Keystone STARS and attended the region’s early childcare conference, hosted by the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC). I received an email in the summer of 2011 that Lailah had been accepted into the Pre-K Counts classroom at Parent Infant Center – an email I still have to this day.
“She was quiet and timid at the time, but I would soon find pictures of her in the PIC newsletter engaged in activities. She became a voracious reader. On weekends, she would gather our family together for circle time to share and explain the pages of her favorite books. She learned about countries around the world, how to manage her emotions and even how to count in Mandarin. More than anything else, she and I were relieved. She was free to explore, examine and question the world around her, and I was able to go back to work with ease knowing that she was getting the education and care she needed.
“When she graduated kindergarten, she was comfortable with the course work, passionate about being in the classroom and open to learning more. In just a few weeks, Lailah will enter the first grade – I could not be more proud or excited to see my daughter blossom – thanks in large part to high-quality pre-k and the power of reading.”
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