Pastor Ruben Andrade Jr. experienced firsthand how an early childhood development program like Head Start can help youth at risk of either falling through education gaps or getting a slow start. Andrade said he was one of those children.
Head Start programs help some of the most vulnerable young children get a jump on education in areas where families might not otherwise have the opportunity because of financial issues. Now the pastor is giving back to his community by starting his own preschool program in the 76707 ZIP code.
“Children, I consider them as a sponge. They’re grasping and taking everything in, whether it’s beneficial or not. They’re clinging to that and they model what they see,” Andrade said. “I believe it’s essential parents place their children in some type of Head Start program, or a preschool they can afford, to invest in their children’s future. It’s now they need to lay that educational foundation and not have them fall behind.”
Family of Faith Christian Academy, the new school at 2225 Cumberland Ave., will help low-income families prepare their children for the next level of education. The school will serve ages 3, 4 and 5 and is expected to open Dec. 5.
The academy is a dream that has been in the works for years, Andrade said. He started the Family of Faith Worship Center, the church where the preschool is located.
“The church is located in the -07 ZIP code area, which is one of the most impoverished ZIP code areas, unfortunately, in our community,” Andrade said.
“We have a lot of families who cannot afford quality, and that’s what we want to be, a quality child care facility. Not just care for their babies. Mom and dad haven’t been able to come out of the rut of poverty because of their finances or education, so we want to be able to assist them in helping their children get that quality education in preschool and be successful and not have to travel across town to drop their child off at a facility like this.”
In 1998, Andrade was asked to return to the same Economic Opportunities Advancement Corp. Head Start program he attended as a child, this time as a parent-involvement coordinator and male role model reading to children, he said. Not long after the visit, he was hired by the program and became involved in the National Fatherhood Initiative, which encourages men to be active in their communities.
While working with the initiative in Maryland, friends suggested he open his own school, Andrade said.
He didn’t start pursuing that dream immediately, though, and became an independent consultant for Head Start programs across the country, he said.
About 11 years ago, after settling back in Waco, he founded the worship center. Six years into it, the desire to open a child service center struck again, and he has been working on it ever since, he said.
‘This life is hard’
“We know kids are special, and they need the education because this life is hard. So we’ve got to put it in their hands and just make sure we do our jobs,” said Marcia Beverly, the academy’s head teacher and a friend of Andrade since high school. “He’s shared his dream for a couple years. It was a rough road trying to get started, but we’re just amazed his time has come.”
The facility holds up to 29 students in three classrooms, and each student will have the chance to learn through Horizon lessons, a Christian-based curriculum that integrates Scripture into all areas of learning, Andrade said.
The preschool will support the mission of Prosper Waco, a collective impact group focused on education, health and financial security in the city that develops community partnerships to bridge gaps in those areas, Prosper Waco spokeswoman Christina Helmick said.
More than 80 percent of Waco ISD students are considered economically disadvantaged. Prosper Waco will be able to measure a child’s progress as he or she goes through the academy and into local public schools and use the data from the center and other local child care centers to improve the city, Helmick said.
“He’s really taking steps to pull on the Prosper Waco initiatives to make his Christian academy the best it can be,” Helmick said. “He’s also taking a holistic approach, because their family resource center is across the street. He can connect them to a variety of resources through their resource center.”
The academy is open to anyone and has a weekly rate of $110. Parents also can apply for a child care subsidy to help pay for the tuition, Andrade said.
“I have a lot of friends, church members and former co-workers coming together to help my dream come true but also to help bring a service to this community,” Andrade said.