As part of Adult Education at City College, the Parent-Child Workshops in Santa Barbara help educate about 250 families a year. This more comprehensive version of preschool offers the opportunity for parents to educate themselves while spending time with their children.
“I like that parents have the opportunity to learn from an instructor and have the ability to spend time with their children,” fifth-year member Jen Mansbach said. “[The workshops] make the community and the schools stronger.”
However, due to City College budget cuts, the four workshops are now looking at an uncertain future, and recent actions have aggravated the public enough to make the workshops a key issue in the upcoming election.
The Starr King Parent-Child Workshop, one of four in the Santa Barbara area, has 80 percent of its salaries compensated by City College.
Other workshops that face downsizing are The Oaks, San Marcos, and the Lou Grant Parent-Child Workshop in Carpentaria.
The workshops are a non-profit corporation and, as members, the parents are responsible for its management.
It is part of the continuing education department on campus, which means all parents involved are accredited students of the college.
“My kids know that what they’re doing is important to us,” Mansbach said. “It’s a bonding experience.”
Starr King used to receive its total salary from City College, but budget cuts to the Adult Education program threaten with further reduction. City College’s contribution to workshop instructors’ salaries could drop to 67.2 percent.
“These parents choose to partake in these programs,” said 13-year parent-education instructor Yolanda Medina-Garcia. “[They] are so committed and it helps influence parents to influence their children.”
Garcia, who is the head of operations at the Starr King workshop, says the program enrolls about 68 families a year. These families also hold fundraisers like rummage sales and auctions to help keep the program afloat.
Garcia is one of Starr King’s homegrown staff members. She was a part of the workshop before she became directly involved in it.
“There were so many parents that cared about my children like I did,” she said.
Having such an interactive program helps build strong bonds between parents and children, and even between families.
“The adults build relationships with other people’s children,” said 14-year assistant director Suzanne Rebstock. “The parents empower children.”
The hands-on activities are an integral part of the programs.
Rebstock, who is one of the instructors not paid by the college, says there is a ratio of about three parents to one child.
The environmentally savvy program teaches children at a young age the value of reducing one’s carbon footprint.
The Starr King workshop has also been able to recently remodel thanks to charitable donations from alumni of the program.
Children can do anything from help plant and care for organic vegetables in the on-site flower garden, to practice arts and crafts on the easels in the painting area.
Workshops like Starr King accept children ranging anywhere between two years and nine months to five years of age. Their classes help to expand understanding in the areas of symbolic knowledge, numbers, representation, classification and other skills needed for later school experience.
The difference between the workshops and public schooling is that parents get an education too. They learn common characteristics of preschool age children and how vital parents are to the entire school life of their children.
Garcia is concerned the public may think the workshops are using this coming election as a way of promoting themselves.
“I don’t like that kind of negative publicity,” Garcia said. “That’s not what this program is about.”