Emmi Brown’s eyes started to fill with tears as her classmates watched an educational program in the corner of one of the classrooms of the YMCA Early Learning Center.

She walked over to her teacher, Elizabeth Gonzales, who picked up the 3-year-old to comfort her. Only a couple of tears managed out of Emmi’s eyes as she was comforted by Gonzales.

“You have to be strong-minded and wanting to love children. They’re real lovable,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales is one of four teachers of the YMCA Early Learning Center, which placed third in the 2019 Best of the Best competition. The center, located in a separate building behind the YMCA, is open to 2-to-5-year old children.

The center features four classrooms — two rooms for 2-year-olds; a room for 3-year-olds; and a room for children ages 4 to 5. Forty-seven children are registered at the center.

Though technically a day care center, the children enrolled at the Early Learning Center have structured learning system in addition to playtime, said Kristen Bienek, the center’s director.

“Our focus is to teach – we teach days of the week, months, colors, numbers and shapes,” Bienek said. “The children still have a lot of free time and play on the playground as well.”

Children also learn how to write their names and work on arts and crafts projects. In Gonzales’ class, she’ll also teach the children the Spanish version of a word they are learning, such as colors. Children also take a nap in the afternoon, Bienek said.

Something that sets the center apart from other day cares is the security. A code is needed to enter the center, and cameras are positioned outside and inside, including in each classroom. Parents can check in on their children throughout the day through an app, Bienek said.

“We communicate daily with our parents,” she said.

Citizens Medical Center also provides a fresh lunch for the children every day, Bienek said. A part-time teacher is also on duty during lunch to relieve the teachers.

Gonzales, who has worked as a day care instructor and school teacher for more than 20 years, said she “absolutely loves” working with young children every day.

“I really do feel like this is what God called me to do. It can be challenging but it is what I love doing. I love the children in my classroom,” Gonzales said.

Bienek said the YMCA focues on families and community and the same can be said about the Early Learning Center.

“It feels good to be recognized and to know that people think we have a great program,” Bienek said.

Amber Aldaco reports on education for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at aaldaco@vicad.com or 361-580-6303.

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Education Reporter

Amber Aldaco is the education reporter at the Victoria Advocate. She's covered various events in the Crossroads including a zoo rescue, a biker funeral and a state meeting with the governor. She enjoys singing with her significant other.

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