Six-year-old Viviana’s family understands firsthand the impact Neighborhood House can have on individuals within a family and on a family as a whole. Viviana graduated from the Skills for School program at the Wellstone Center in 2019. Her mother Sylvia attended daycare at Neighborhood House when she was a child, long before the Wellstone Center was built. And Viviana’s father Ricardo attended Adult Education classes for GED readiness and later college readiness. “Neighborhood House helped Ricardo move forward in life and has does the same for Viviana,” Sylvia says.

After three years in the Skills for School program, Viviana is now in Kindergarten, where she is thriving. “I can’t tell you how happy I was after the first week [of Kindergarten] when her teacher told me, ‘Viviana knows how to do school—and she’s very good at it,’” Sylvia says. “How did that happen? There’s no doubt that it was her early childhood education at Neighborhood House. Her time there helped her learn and expand her love of books but just as much, the social skills and maturity she shows comes from her time in the [Children’s] Discovery Room.”

The Children’s Discovery Room is the Skills for School classroom where educators help our youngest participants develop the skills they will need to enter kindergarten. Teachers focus on helping children with social emotional regulation, positive peer interactions, curiosity in problem solving, symbolic thinking, and academic skills. “By the time Viviana graduated, she was the oldest student in class and she was very much a leader,” says Amanda Williams, Parent and Early Childhood Education Program Manager. “She was confident in herself and her abilities, highly developed in language and verbal skills, and eager to lend a helping hand to other children in the classroom.”

One of Viviana’s favorite activities was CrEATive Cooking with Kids, a collaboration between the Wellstone Food Market and Skills for School staff. Once a month two staff members from the Food Market join the Wellstone preschool class to help students prepare a simple recipe, such as for smoothies or mini pizzas, and educate the children about where that food comes from. “The idea for the activity came last year when we were teaching a unit on food and nutrition and we discovered that many of the students didn’t know where their food came from,” Amanda says. “Some didn’t know that eggs came from chickens or that peaches grew on trees.”

Not only does the activity help students learn more about food, it gives them the opportunity to work in groups to help prepare the food, and gives them an outlet to ask questions. “It gives children who maybe struggling with food scarcity at home an outlet to try new foods at school and talk about foods in a way where there’s plenty of access to them and we all get to try them,” Amanda says.

And Viviana especially loved it. She approached her favorite activity with the same enthusiasm she did for preschool in general. “She was always up for trying any activity we offered,” Amanda says.

Viviana’s parents are proud of Viviana and grateful to Neighborhood House for the part it played in Viviana’s development. “I think Viviana is very much like a teacher in some ways,” Sylvia says. “If there is a conflict, she recognizes it and takes the initiative to explain that we can all be kind and nice to each other and still get the things we want. She’s very well-behaved and very mature with her emotions—and that came from her time at Neighborhood House.”