Each day, children ages 3-5 enter our preschool program in our Center for Family Life in Hartford. There they receive nurturing care, guidance and myriad activities to help prepare them for kindergarten, and their parents receive support to help them foster their child’s emotional, social and behavioral health and academic success. Many of the children have already experienced challenges in their young lives, and since staff of The Village are equipped to handle behavioral and mental health issues, they also receive additional assessment and intervention if needed.
Responsible for all of this is Carmen Valenzuela, who leads a team of teachers and other staff – all working together for the benefit of the children and families.
Because the center is licensed by the State and nationally accredited, Carmen is also responsible for ensuring compliance with the requirements of State Departments of Education and Public Health and National Association of Young Children (NAEYC).
“I respect the commitment the agency shows with its more than 200 years of service to children and their families,” says Carmen. “The Village has provided, through all these years, an incredible amount of support to families in the region. This is not an easy task as the needs change over time, and the resources are not always readily available.”
“I am learning every day at my job more and more about not only the struggles of our families, but also about their culture and their strengths,” she says. “Being part of this engine of change is very gratifying. I am part of a team that works with the children at a point in their life when they are so open to learn that you can really have a positive impact.”
“My main mission is to ensure that each child who comes to our center receives the best we can give him/her, with all the support needed, so that his transition to Kindergarten is a smooth one and he is successful in school. That means not only an educational environment that is rich and interesting and helps him develop and master all the benchmarks expected during preschool, but also involvement with his family, as they are the most important figures in his life. Their success has a direct affect on their child’s success at school. One of the great rewards of my job is when parents of former students come back and tell us how wonderful the children are doing at school, how much they had learned. The best compliment is to have those parents bring back their youngest children, a new addition to the family, or their friends or relatives t meet us – like we’re part of their family. “
Before joining the early childhood department in 2008, Carmen was part of The Village’s Institute for Successful Families, where she provided parenting education to families, using the Common Sense Parenting model, and also trained other parenting educators. Previously, she was a parent educator at the Family Resource Center at the Burns school in Hartford. Her roles have included facilitating literacy and reading groups for parents, and organizing summer programs for children.
Before The Village, Carmen worked with an early childhood program for the Community Renewal Team, and as a tutor for Literacy Volunteers of America in Enfield and Windsor Locks (after taking classes to improve her own English). In her native country of Colombia, South America, she also worked in a preschool for 4 years.
Somehow, in her spare time, she serves on the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association Education and Culture Committee.
Carmen is certified in numerous capacities: as head teacher by the State of Connecticut, in the Triple P- Positive Parenting Program (level 4), and as a trainer of trainers for the Ages and Stages Questionnaire and Motheread®/ Family Read.
She earned a graduate degree from the University of Saint Joseph and a Licenciatura en Educación Preescolar (equivalent of a U.S. bachelor of education in preschool education) from the Universidad de San Buenaventura in Bogotá, Colombia.
What quote best captures your personal philosophy?
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I believe people have the ability to learn, and it is important to acknowledge all the different styles and rhythms we all have, so we can approach a student in the best way for them and help them to find, discover, learn, apply, and invent, instead of just assuming they can’t learn and therefore they just need the answer from you.
What is something unexpected that most people don’t know about you?
Although I am fairly quiet in big groups, I have an adventurous spirit and love the outdoors. It’s there that I learned to take big risks like jumping into a river from big, tall rocks (about 20 ft high), not having ever swam in a river before, or try white water kayaking, or skiing, even though I fell down so many times I stopped counting. This spirit echoes on the risks I had taken on a professional level as well, as I never dreamt about directing a preschool program here in the States after having been out of the classroom (at least with 3-5 years olds) for 15 years.
What do you most want clients of The Village to know about you?
I am here to serve and help their children and them. I believe children just need to be given an opportunity to shine and this is what I want to give to them.