Teacher Kendra Yamamoto guided Saul’s hands across a table coated with shaving cream. “Mira, mira,” she said in Spanish. With her palm atop the boy’s fist, she maneuvered his index finger through a lathery curl. Together they wrote out a capital letter A while Yamamoto coached him in English. “Down, down, across: A. Down, down, across: A.”

Writing letters in shaving cream was one of many literacy- and math-based activities for students in King Elementary School’s Early Explorers pilot preschool. Yamamoto developed the test evening program to expand opportunities beyond King’s small daytime preschool and taught the classes with the aid of Staff Assistant Imelda Black.

According to Yamamoto, the curriculum was a complete introduction to school. Lessons included “how to separate from family, familiarity with the school environment, socialization and exposure to the academic and social-emotional aspects of kindergarten.” The classes mixed fun with an important purpose—kindergarten readiness, which is vital to later success in school.

Jossiephine Kelley said her daughter loved preschool. “She wants to go to school every day. One day a week, to her, is not enough.”

Early Explorers served a small group of children and their families in two different sessions in spring 2016. It also included meals subsidized by a $2,000 grant secured by Tamara Shoup, director of Family-Community Resource Centers, after Yamamoto and King FCRC Coordinator Angel Banta requested funds.

Parents got involved in learning, too. Each week parents and guardians received early learning tips and take-home activities to complete with their children.

Like their children, the parents had high praise for Early Explorers. Said Ana Aquino, a volunteer and mother of now four King students, “It really helps and it really makes a difference—for little ones and for parents.”

After practicing his letters in shaving cream, Saul moved on to painting. Unaided, he dragged his brush across a piece of paper. Down, down, across.

“A,” he said proudly.

This and other stories originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Inside Vancouver Public Schools.