Editor's note: This story was produced in conjunction with the Latino Communities Reporting Lab.
MERIDEN — When Elizabeth Cancel — mother of 5-year-old Jacob Muñoz — learned about the pre-K summer program “Adventure is Out There!,” she signed him up right away.
She thought it was a good opportunity for him to develop social skills and feels she was right because the boy comes home from the program with a smile on his face each day.
“Adventure is Out There!” is a free program for Meriden children ages 3 to 5 who missed a complete preschool experience this year or attended pre-K or kindergarten remotely.
The five-week program, offered by Meriden Family Resource Centers, includes field trips, books, crafts, bookbags, t-shirts, food, family tote bags, fitness, a petting zoo, musical activities, karate and more. It started recently at Hanover Elementary School and runs until Aug. 6.
The YMCA will add activities related to science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Parenting classes will also be offered.
Cancel, who learned about the program through a friend, said that because of the pandemic, her son had been learning from home, which kept him from socializing. She feels the program will better prepare him for first grade.
Cathy Battista, director of Meriden Family Resource Centers and president of the Connecticut Family Resource Center Alliance, said “Adventure is Out There!” was designed with the purpose of enhancing the academic and social-emotional experience children lost during the pandemic. Many missed out on learning things like empathy, she added.
“They need interaction just like we do,” she said. “The intent was to at least attempt...to bridge that gap and bring them closer to the place they should be when they go back to school.”
There are 62 children enrolled in the program, but Battista said she could have probably filled two schools of children who qualify. As part of the program, children are being screened for child developmental and social emotional issues.
“We don’t diagnose, we refer to the experts if we see red flags,” Battista said. “We are all about prevention rather than intervention which usually comes way too late.”
A school psychologist and a Spanish speaking staff member, Liz Peralta, are also part of the program.
Peralta sees the benefit of having a Spanish speaker among the staff because there are parents who don’t speak English. She said those parents are often afraid to ask for help because of the communication barrier. Peralta helps with translation and connects parents with other types of assistance and information.
Battista said the summer program is also a way to help connect children with the other initiatives offered by Meriden Family Resource Centers.
“Adventure is Out There!” program costs are being paid by American Rescue Plan Act funds received by the Connecticut Office Of Early Childhood. Battista said that the office offered a total of $3.5 million to Family Resource Centers across the state.
Family Resource Centers — located at John Barry and Benjamin Franklin elementary schools — help families connect with the local community’s social and health services, jobs, parenting classes and more.
To learn more, please visit https://www.meridenk12.org/parents/meriden-family-resource-centers/