Royal City mom Cecilia Villafana

Cecilia Villafana is a parent representative for Blossoms Early Learning Center in Royal City. She’s also a paraprofessional for kindergarten students with Royal School District.

Villafana has a 3-year-old son, Liam, attending Blossoms. When her older son Edgar, 9, was his age, she and her husband struggled to find care for him while they worked.

“It’s such a small community. There’s not that much resources for day care or preschool, or a setting for them to be educated at the same time,” she said of Royal City, a rural community in Grant County of less than 1,700 people, according to Census estimates.

For Villafana and her husband, that sometimes meant staggering work schedules to trade off care, relying on babysitters or missing work. It also meant juggling work responsibilities and trying to prepare Edgar for a strong start to kindergarten, she said.

“You’re juggling both at home — trying to — so that when they go to kinder, they’re prepared,” she said.

With her older son, it was a struggle. But when the Blossoms Early Learning Center opened up in late 2019, it created a new resource for the community, she said. Previously, the community had a migrant child care program through Inspire Childhood Development, the organization that runs Blossoms, and a small preschool program through the Royal School District.

The Blossoms facility opened up more early learning opportunities for local children, she said. Today, it serves 60 3- and 4-year-olds from the community. Directors soon expect to serve 80 or 100 kids.

For Villafana’s 3-year-old, she said she’s seen a big difference in his development because of the program.

“My kid right now knows all his letters, numbers from 1-25 and shapes,” she said of Liam. He also receives speech therapy through Blossoms and a partnership with the local school district, she said.

As a parent representative, Villafana works to make sure other parents in the community know about this resource, which is geared toward low-income and high-risk families. Many don’t apply because they assume they won’t qualify, but Villafana says that’s rarely the case.

According to Census data, more than 30% of the Royal City community lives below the federal poverty line.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” she said to fellow parents.

What’s more, Villafana says she sees a difference through her work in kindergarten between students who have access to early learning settings in the community like Blossoms, and those who don’t. When kids show up to kindergarten with fine motor skills like being able to hold scissors or a pencil, or an understanding of colors or shapes, “It makes it easier for us to teach on a different level — making them grow more,” she said.

“Instead of teaching them the basics right then, they already know the basics. We move on, we move on,” she said. “Because kinder is just: boom, boom, boom, boom. So it’s nice when they’re already in there, knowing the basics.”

She said many parents in the community work in agriculture, the primary industry in Grant County, which can mean full work days seven days a week. They might not have the time to instill some of these foundational skills on their own, so the program both enables them to work knowing their kids are in good hands and prepare community members for a strong K-12 experience.

While Villafana said the Blossoms program is a benefit to the community, she said more early learning and child care resources in the community would be a welcome support for families.